May 18th, 1985 started out terrifically.
It was a warm, sunny spring day and I was
lounging around my cottage in Bentley, Hampshire, 50
miles south of London, England. That morning I walked
to the local store to buy some supplies as I thought
it would be nice to have a barbecue with my friends
later in the day.
good friend and teammate, Donny Gordon arrived in the
early afternoon followed by my new girlfrienc, Suzie,
her friend, Pipa and her brother.
on, it was decided that we would all go trampolining
and then return to my place for a barbecue dinner. We
were off for an afternoon of sun and fun.
We travelled 10 miles north on the A-31 to Runfold,
Surrey, to my friend's place. The Blowers owned a small
farm and had let me store my trampoline in their barn
for the winter. I hadn't had the trampoline out all
winter and typically, the first bounce of the year
always put my body to the test.
and I went to the barn, uncovered the equipment and
wheeled the tramp over to a grassy area of the garden
next to the house. We unfolded the trampoline, set up
the spotting decks and 15 minutes it was ready to use.
Being a bit of a show-off and wanting to give my friends
a real thrill, I started bouncing again, rapidly gaining
height. At the apex of my jump I launched into a
full in-full out (a laid out double twisting, double
back flip), but half way through the manoeuvre, I lost
my orientation to the ground. A split second later I
landed on the trampoline directly on the back of my
After a few seconds the taut trampoline bed came to
rest from its constant, rhythmic movement. With my limp
body sprawled out across the course surface of the trampoline,
all I could do was stare into the setting sun.
few seconds later, I heard my friends call out, Mike,
what's the matter, are you all right?" In a terrified
tone, I replied, "I can't move." There
was concern and panic in their voices as someone said,
"whatever you do, don't move him" and then
someone else took the initiative, announcing, "I'm
going to call for an ambulance."
While waiting for the ambulance attendants to arrive,
I was calm but scared. In the back of my mind I'd always
known about the potential danger of my sports, but I
never considered the possibility that it could happen
to me. I was praying for the feeling to come back come
back to my body, hoping that it was just a temporary
As I lay there unable to move, I wasn't in pain, but
rather, I felt a warm tingling running through my body.
I also felt as if both of my legs were pointing directly
up at the sky. In retrospect, that must have been my
subconscious recalling the position of my legs at the
moment of impact.
ambulance attendants arrived 15 minutes after the call
and were very calm and reassuring, but also very diligent.
One attendant remained next to me while his partner
and my friends went to look for some long planks of
wood. They were needed to construct a bridge across
the trampoline frame in order to treat me without moving
the trampoline bed and causing further damage. Once
the planks were in place from frame to frame, on either
side of my body, the attendants managed to slowly and
carefully slide a backboard under my lifeless body.
Next, they placed a hard plastic collar around my neck
to stabilize my head and prevent any further movement
help from my friends, I was transferred to a stretcher
and into the back of the ambulance for the 30-mile journey
to Guildford Hospital. In the emergency department,
nurses cut off my shirt and shorts and then entered
intravenous lines into my forearm. A short while later,
a doctor rushed in and started pricking me with a pin
and asked if I could feel anything. As he methodically
moved upwards from my feet, the answer was consistently
"no","no" and "no" again
until he reached my upper arms and shoulders.
tube was then inserted into my mouth and down my throat.
I kept gagging and choking on the line ... it was all
a horrible nightmare. I would find out later that I had
to be placed on a ventilator since the initial paralysis
prevented me from breathing on my own. Then, the nurses
administered a strong sedative and I kept fading in and
out of consciousness.
that evening I vaguely recalled flashing lights and
the sound of a siren ... my only memories of a long,
slow, police-escorted ambulance ride. As I found out
later, due to the seriousness of my injury, I had been
immediately transferred to the nearest spinal cord rehabilitation
facility with available beds. It just happened to be
the Stanmore Hospital in Middlesex, in the north of
have no recollection of the next two days, including
the operation on my neck performed by a neurologist
and surgeon named Dr. Ian Bailey. The procedure, which
lasted 10 hours, revealed that I had broken my fourth
and fifth cervical bones and completely severed my spinal
cord. I had never done anything by half measures!
The operation consisted of opening up an eight inch
incision in the back of my neck, cutting off a small
piece of my right shin bone and fusing it across the
broken vertebras of my spinal column.
that I was a competitive athlete, Dr. Bailey dismissed
the option of fitting me with a halo and keeping me
in traction to allow the break to heal naturally. In
my kind of spinal cord injury, if a patient is put in
traction, they are typically bed bound for up to three
months. Whereas, in a neck fusion, the patient wears
a soft neck collar for three weeks before being able
to get up into a wheelchair. Given my active lifestyle
and lack of patience, I think the doctors made the right
Two days later I woke up in intensive care. My head
and neck were supported on all sides, and I was hooked
up to life support equipment, including a nasal gastric
tube for feeding and a ventilator to assist my breathing.
I was unaware of my surroundings or the operation that
had just taken place. Adding to my confusion and fear
was the fact that, with the ventilator down my throat,
I couldn't verbally communicate about either my physical
or psychological state. The only method of communication
was with my eyes and facial expressions, and my cues
were frequently misunderstood. Sometimes, when there
was something in my eye, the nurses misinterpreted my
gestures and proceeded to wipe my mouth. On other occasions,
I tried to indicate an itchy face or neck, and my arms
following my injury, my mother and father were contacted
in Ottawa, Canada. The following day they took a flight
to England and were at my bedside when I awoke in the
intensive care unit. It was very comforting to know
that my parents were with me during this tragic time.
Enduring the next two weeks were to be the toughest
days and nights of my life.
Although it was late May, I vividly recall how cold
I constantly felt. As I found out later this was due
to the shock to my central nervous system and a lack
of movement needed for proper circulation and warmth.
I frequently requested extra sheets and blankets and
then asked the nurses to pull them up high over my face.
I also felt continually dehydrated and my only relief,
because I was hooked up to the ventilator, was to suck
on an ice cube. I was so grateful for those simple comforts.
Nurses would often come into the room to perform procedures
under the covers. I never knew what they were doing
to me nor, at that stage, did I want to know.
I had just been transferred to the spinal unit of the
hospital when, less than two weeks after the injury,
I suffered my first serious setback. My left lung collapsed
and I was rushed back to intensive care for what is
known as a "bronchoscopy". A long tube was
put down my throat and into my lungs. Fibre-optic cables
inside the tube gave doctors the inside "scoop"
about what was going on while suction lines drained
the infected lung. To prevent the risk of swallowing
my tongue it was essential for me to be fully conscious
the whole time.
doubt the bronchoscopy was absolutely the most difficult
medical procedure I've ever endured. For over 45 minutes
I felt like I was choking to death. Sweat poured off
me as I struggled to keep from gagging. At times I felt
like giving up but I drew strength from my Mum, the
nurses at my side and, believe it or not, by dreaming
about lying on a deserted beach and drinking ice cold
Coca Colas ... seriously! When the doctors withdrew
bronchoscope and the choking sensation subsided, my
relief was palpable. The procedure was successful, my
lungs reinflated and I could breath on my own. A few
days later I returned to my ward on the spinal unit
where I would begin my long road towards recovery.