Daniel, 30, from Tredegar, has regained 100% independence two years after suffering a life-changing spinal cord injury. He shattered his C5 vertebra in his back after diving into the sea at Weston-Super-Mare on August 13, 2016 while on a day trip to the seaside town with his teammates from Trefil rugby club. Despite appearances, the water was only knee deep: upon hitting the seabed, Daniel shattered his vertebra and was immediately paralysed. Lying face down in the water, he held his breath until his cousin lifted him to safety.
Daniel was rushed to Bristol’s Southmead hospital where he underwent 14 hours of surgery to graft bone from his pubic bone to replace his broken vertebra. Despite the surgeon’s best efforts, Daniel was left paralysed from the chest down.
He was transferred to the Royal Newport Hospital where he spent two months on flat bed rest before being moved to the spinal cord injury rehabilitation centre Rookwood in Cardiff. Daniel spent 10 months there undergoing physio and rehab before being discharged home to an adapted house to suit his needs. “My family has been so supportive and helped fundraise to pay for the adaptations: I can’t thank them or the local community enough for helping me out with this.”
Daniel’s girlfriend Katie has also given him immeasurable support. “She has been by my side all the way and without her love and support things would have been so much harder to bear,” says Daniel. Together they bought a dog, nine-month old silver Labrador Hendrix, to keep Daniel company at home during the day and to encourage him to get up and out.
While Daniel was recuperating at Rookwood his aunt heard about Neurokinex, a new spinal cord injury rehabilitation centre in Bristol. Its work focuses on activity-based rehabilitation – working below the point of injury, getting every client out of their wheelchair to work in a standing position to promote core strength, improve bone density and boost circulation. Its innovative methods have a reputation for taking individuals far beyond their predicted recovery level and Daniel couldn’t wait to get started.
In September 2017 he started working with Neurokinex Centre Manager Edward Baker. “From the moment I went it into Neurokinex it felt different from any of the other rehab treatment centres,” says Daniel. “The atmosphere is upbeat and positive and feels more like a gym than a clinic. They were quick to assess my ability and within the first session had me standing upright and supported while I did key exercises: it was a revelation.”
The improvements came quickly. “I regained more mobility and strength in three months at Neurokinex than I had since my injury a year earlier,” says Daniel. “My upper body and core strength returned quickly and that significantly boosted my ability to do more for myself and become more independent.”
Daniel goes to Neurokinex twice a week for a one-hour session each time. He alternates upper and lower limb work and has seen extensive improvements, particularly in his core strength. “A key difference with Neurokinex is they are working below the point of my injury, seeking to stimulate nerve and muscle activity in my lower body. The improvement in my full body strength and lower limbs is immense and I see improvements every week.
“Being fit as a rugby player and physically very active, I think it helped my body deal with the accident and surgery,” believes Daniel. “I also have a competitive and positive mind-set which is absolutely matched by Edward and the team at Neurokinex. They really push me and push my body. It’s tough going and the challenges keep changing: they simply set no limits and that’s exactly what I respond to!”
Daniel has made phenomenal progress in the last year, regaining movement in his right leg which was still unresponsive as recently as November 2017. By May 2018 he could begin to move it on command again. The next month, he dismissed his personal care assistants and now, just over a year after starting at Neurokinex, Daniel is living independently. “I no longer need the district nurse to visit or the personal assistants: I can use the bathroom, shower, dress, feed and drive myself.”
“In Daniel’s sessions we do as much work as possible in standing, to give his lower body the stimulation it needs,” says Edward Baker, Neurokinex Bristol centre manager. “We work his trunk and legs in every session, using a lot of variety and getting him standing using different methods so that his spinal cord continues to adapt,” he explains.
“Daniel’s mental attitude has been integral to his success: he is stoic, courageous and calm and applied himself consistently to each new challenge,” says Edward. “He has never once complained, despite facing the inevitable stumbling blocks that come with a spinal injury. He just turns up and gets on with it, and the rewards have appeared, month by month. It is a personal and professional privilege to work with someone so dedicated and with so much potential, Daniel’s story is inspiring for people everywhere living with paralysis,” he says.