Darren, 32, a trainee chef from Lewisham, South London has defied the odds – and professional expectation – to walk unaided nine years after a freak accident left him paralysed. Darren was enjoying a night out in London in 2009 when he was caught in crossfire: the gunshot wound to his spine left him paralysed from the waist down.
He was treated first at Kings College Hospital, London and then transferred to Stoke Mandeville for specialist spinal cord injury rehabilitation. Darren spent five months there and was taught to adapt to life in a wheelchair.
Once back home, Darren felt isolated, both from rehab care and his social group. “I didn’t want people to see me in a wheelchair and didn’t want their sympathy,” he says. “I withdrew for a while and was determined to regain more mobility. However, I hadn’t been signposted to any specialist physio or rehab care and was left to work on my own. The message was, ‘you’re in a wheelchair now and need to adapt’ but I didn’t accept that.”
During the early stages of his rehab, Darren had felt a slight sensation in his right big toe so he focused hard on engaging this and developing a response from his right foot and leg. He worked for hours at home and at his local gym. His family clubbed together to buy a walking frame so Darren could pull himself up to standing. This all took three years, but Darren was determined to keep pushing forwards.
Working on his own, Darren managed to reach a point where he was just about walking with the aid of two crutches. “I wasn’t exactly walking as I was dragging my left foot and leg which basically had no strength or control,” says Darren.
The breakthrough moment for Darren came when he visited Neurokinex, a specialist spinal cord rehabilitation centre which had recently opened near Gatwick. “The minute I saw Neurokinex I could tell this was something very special and very different from any rehab, physio or gym I’d experienced,” he says. “At that point, I was very unsteady and felt like I could fall at any minute: I really wanted to know if I could build strength and stability and hoped that, in turn, would give me confidence.”
Darren visits Neurokinex once a week for an intensive one-hour session. “For the first time I’m working with professionals who are setting no limits, accepting no boundaries and are as determined as I am to push on and see how far we can go,” says Darren. “It’s a great atmosphere there – it doesn’t feel like a hospital or rehab clinic: it’s an upbeat thriving gym, full of positive people making gains. It’s a real tonic and has restored my confidence as much as my movement. I’m now able to stand, pivot on my feet and take unaided steps. It’s a massive change for me: a game changer that I can walk again for the first time in nine years.”
“Darren has seen an excellent transition since joining us: he arrived using two crutches to walk and was really dragging his left leg,” says Morgan Price-King, Neurokinex trainer. “He progressed to using one crutch and is now able to take a few steps unaided with a good gait using both legs almost equally,” he says. “Our focus has been on improving his standing balance while completing challenging tasks like boxing and throwing, in order to allow him to feel move stable in different positions.”
“What’s amazed me is that nine years after my injury I am making huge gains,” says Darren. “The idea that after a certain time has elapsed you won’t recover more is wrong: the activity-based rehabilitation techniques being used at Neurokinex have brought about immeasurable changes for me. I cannot thank the team enough.”