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The Accident

In 2008 Michael was involved in a traffic accident on a training ride on beach Road in Melbourne. He was clipped on the right-hand side by a passing truck and careered into the back of a parked four-wheel-drive. The accident broke his cervical spine at the C4 level. This break damaged his spine making him a quadriplegic. He was transported to the Alfred Hospital and then on to the Austin Hospital intensive care unit. A tracheotomy was inserted so he could breathe and nasal gastric tube so he could be fed. He underwent a number of operations to fuse his spine in two places and pins were inserted to mend his broken jaw.

As this was a traffic accident in Victoria, I am covered by TAC. If you need help in this regard, please contact Burt & Davies.

Hospital – Early Days

Michael spent three weeks in the intensive care unit and then another three weeks in the spinal ward of the Austin hospital. during this time he trained himself to breathe and eat again. Importantly, during this time I ensured that my days were filled with a number of alternative therapies to complement the physiotherapy and occupational therapy I was receiving from a hospital. I believe these therapies were of great importance to help me reconnect with my body that I could no longer feel or control. These therapies were:

  • Massage at any spare moment even if it was from friends and family. you need to give your brain a reason to reconnect to your nervous system. Getting massage is the easiest way to stimulate parts of your body, even if it is just light touch and vision of your limbs you can no longer feel.
  • Craniosacral therapy. This method is all about connecting your brain through to your sacrum. ie: the length of your spinal cord. If nothing else this therapy help me relax more than anything. It involved a lot of visualisation of controlling your body even if you are unable to do so. My practitioner also combine this therapy with acupuncture.
  • Kinesiology. Kinesiology is another a little bit left-field but I also credit to helping my brain and nervous system reconnect.
  • TENS Machine. A machine that uses electrical stimulation to contract and relax your muscles. Again this was helping my nervous system reconnect but importantly was stimulating muscles so that some muscle tone remained for me to tap into when my nervous system did reconnect.
  • Good food. Once I began eating myself, food was being brought in by my family to ensure I was eating as nutritionally balanced as possible. My body¬† craved the food that I needed (proteins and fruit particularly) so I was making requests left right and centre! I had dropped 15 kg in the four weeks that I was being fed by nasal gastric tube (from 70 kg down to 55 kg) so gaining back some weight, and the right kind of weight when you can’t exercise a lot was going to be difficult.

It was towards the end of my three week stay in the spinal unit that I began to be able to wiggle the big toe on my right foot. In my physiotherapy sessions we also noticed that I could flicker muscles down the right side of my body in particular. I could not feel any of the parts of my body below my shoulders but was showing signs that I might be able to move these parts of my body down the track.

 Rehabilitation Hospital

After six weeks at the Austin Hospital I was moved to the rehabilitation facility. At this facility to focus was on nursing to give you their health to go home. In addition to this they provided one hour per day of physiotherapy and another hour of occupational therapy (hand therapy in particular). This therapy was not enough. I supplemented this therapy with the following:

  • FES Bike. The FES Bike uses electrical stimulation on the muscles in your legs in time with a pedalling action as if you are riding a bike. this bike was donated to me by work colleagues who raised the money so that I could use it in my hospital ward. I was spending up to 3 hours a day doing this. This regime enabled me to maintain some muscle mass and eventually I was able to contribute to the pedalling in time with the machine.
  • Hydrotherapy. Getting in the water is a surreal experience when you cannot feel your body. The reduced resistance of water enabled me to move around and kick my legs in particular well supported with appropriate floats. I could also stand up supported by other people. It is here that I began to take my first steps. Being in the water also has the benefit of enabling you to be upright without fainting because of blood pressure issues.
  • Standing Frame. when all you do is sit down and lie down your body to get her to pump blood effectively around your body. You need to get standing to encourage your body to send a blood back from your feet! I could not stand up or even 30 seconds the first time I tried this. It took me a month before I could stand up for 10 min. After about three months I was beginning to loosen the straps to try and stand up using my own muscles.
  • Feldenkrais Physiotherapy.The Feldenkrais Method is a mentally intensive form of physiotherapy where you concentrate on specific movements with the aim of improving a gross movement such as walking. For me this method was extremely valuable because I could not feel my body, but could move different parts of it with varying degrees of success.
  • Home for Weekends. It is important to get out of the hospital environment as soon as is medically practical for periods of time. I was coming home from Friday lunchtime until Monday lunchtime. During this time friends can visit you at home and I could busy myself with therapy. I would then go back to hospital for rest! It is good to do this to get used to what life will be like when you get home.

Out of Hospital, Off to Project Walk

Seven months after my accident I checked out of hospital and came home … But not for long. We already had flights to and accommodation and therapy booked in Carlsbad, California. 3 hours a day, 4 days a week for 9 weeks at Project Walk. it is important to note that Project Walk is not particularly well named. It is actually about spinal cord recovery through carefully designed activities. it is for anyone with a spinal cord injury he wants to improve their mobility. This could mean improving your core just so you can sit in your chair more comfortably. It is personal training with some expertise around what having a spinal cord injury actually means. The key points about Project Walk that worked for me are:

  • Their methods of recovery suited my mentality. I come from a sporting background where I was familiar with the concept of applying yourself to improve. I was willing to push myself to gain the most improvement I could. I did not miss a single hour of therapy while I was there.
  • They recognised that if I was to gain independent mobility I was going to need to improve my arms more than my legs. The bulk of my time at Project Walk was spent improving the range of my shoulders and the strength in my shoulders and arms. At the start of my time at Project Walk my triceps did not work at all. Without triceps you cannot hold your own body weight in any way. At the end of the nine weeks I was able to transfer myself from a wheelchair to a bench and support my weight whilst walking with crutches.
  • They have an option where you can train a trainer. I flew over a good friend of mine for the final week and he was trained in the methods used to train me. By doing this I was able to continue the project walk program at the local gym when I got home. This is obviously a lot cheaper than flying back to project walk for further therapy!

The trip to California was a great way to bust out of hospital for our family. We learned a little bit about how to enjoy a new way of life with a few treats along the way! We had trips to SeaWorld in San Diego, Legoland which was in Carlsbad where we were staying, and of course Disneyland in Los Angeles. We stayed in a town called Oceanside in a furnished apartment right on the beach. It was a great way to do it!

Ongoing Rehabilitation

Importantly, I have kept the methods I learned in Carlsbad California going when I got home. The trainer I flew over is still my trainer and we go to the gym six hours a week. In addition to this I still use the following therapies:

  • Physiotherapy. I have a wonderful neurological physiotherapist who has a business called Neuro Solutions. I have had the same physiotherapist since before my trip to project walk. It is important to note that the gains to be made after spinal cord injury are slow. But if you are consistent in your application to these therapies then you will improve steadily.
  • Pilates. I find Pilates absolutely brilliant. When I first started Pilates I could barely feel the core muscles working at all and are now able to control them quite well which is help me a lot with balance which includes sitting in a chair. It is obviously help me with walking as well. My Pilates “instructor” is a trained neurological physiotherapist as well who has specialised in Pilates. She also works for Neuro Solutions.
  • Massage. Unfortunately my condition involves a lot of tone and spasm in my lower back and shoulders in particular. I am in immense pain and become quite immobile I don’t have regular massage.
  • Anything you can think of! You need to think outside the box of activities that you can do to be active. For me I am able to ride a recumbent bike and with where I live in Melbourne I aim to do this twice a week. I also taught myself to snorkel and for a milestone birthday took my family to the Great Barrier Reef here in Queensland Australia. I have also worked out a way that I can ride an unmodified go-kart. This is in fact hard work and great if you balance and coordination. I don’t work particularly well, but I can do it. One of my favourite activities has become riding a sit-ski, which I can do with my wife and daughter. You need to think of what you can do in your condition and make it happen. It is very easy to get stuck in a rut and be doing the same thing day in and day out. Find a way to spice it up a bit!


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