Father of one James Dwyer, 36, from Shoreham-by-Sea had the shock of his life on October 5, 2018 in a freak Olympic Weightlifting accident when performing a dynamic ‘snatch’ lift, the bar came down on his spine immediately paralysing him from the waist down. One year on, James has regained his strength and fulfilled his aim of lifting his two-year-old son – and lifting weights once again.
“My overriding goal as I lay in hospital was to be able to lift my son Dexter and play with him to feel part of family life once again,” says James.
James had a long haul to get back home from hospital. His injury is in his mid-back at T11 and T12 where he now has a metal plate fitted. He has no sensation below his belly button but he has managed to regain his upper body strength.
James was taken to Brighton General Hospital for initial treatment and then transferred to Haywards Heath for rehab before going to the specialist spinal cord injury unit at Stoke Mandeville for two months.
“The treatment I received was top-notch and I eventually left Stoke Mandeville in February 2019 by which time I had restored some decent upper body strength and was able to use a wheelchair with confidence. However, I want to achieve much more in terms of day-to-day mobility and also wanted to return to the gym and competitive sport.”
While in Stoke Mandeville James had heard of Neurokinex, a specialist spinal cord rehabilitation unit near Gatwick which specialises in activity-based rehab that sees all clients working BELOW their point of injury, in standing and walking exercises.
“Neurokinex is an extraordinary facility that builds the rehab around the individual,” says James. “They didn’t bat an eyelid when I told them I wanted to get back in the gym, lift weights again and find a competitive sport to channel my energy.
“The set-up there is very much like a gym – the atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, the trainers are hard task masters and really challenge me,” says James. “They think outside the box and behave more like personal trainers than physios. To build my upper body strength, I wanted to try wheelbarrow walking – just like the children’s sports day race move! I love it and every session I spend some time wheelbarrow training up and down the gym floor and even on the treadmill. It’s brilliant!”
Neurokinex also uses electrical stimulation therapy and activity-based rehabilitation to have James standing and walking to activate muscles that hadn’t been used since his injury.
“We knew from the outset that James is a strong and determined man which is perfect for us to work with,” says Marilla Cameron, Neurokinex trainer. “His training mindset from Olympic lifting before his accident remained and we use that to channel his energy and effort. James also set personal goals – to lift and play with Dexter – and that is a really valuable driver to keep him focused and working hard through our sessions,” she says.
“Neurokinex is a vital transition from hospital to home and work: it’s pro-active and supportive and its NHS referral system is particularly helpful to people who are newly injured,” says James. The Neurokinex NHS referral programme enables eligible people to access six free one-hour sessions to get a taste of what it’s like to engage in the activity-based rehabilitation programme.
“The NHS referral was a fantastic opportunity for me,” says James. “When first out of hospital you’re focused on getting back into family life and work and it’s hard to get your head around much else. But the next stage of rehab is absolutely crucial to your continuing progress. The Neurokinex NHS Referral Programme was easy to access: they set up the appointments and got me started. The six free sessions were very generous and gave me a chance to understand how they work, what can happen and what the future holds.”
With the help and blessing from Neurokinex, James is training for wheelchair racing competitions and plans to do a half-marathon next year. He’s working on getting a faster 100m and 200m time and loves this new challenge.
“The Neurokinex team completely understand me and my goals,” says James. “I work out at a traditional gym three times a week and Neurokinex complements this training. They keep the challenges coming, including setting up obstacle courses for me in the gym: there’s no end to their creativity to get results.”
As well as returning to family life, James has continued to work successfully, even keeping tabs on his business from his hospital bed. James is the co-founder of Healthcover Ltd which provides international medical insurance. “I took a couple of weeks off straight after my accident but soon resumed work from my hospital bed. I know how lucky I am to have restored my family and work life and being back challenging myself in lifting and wheelchair racing is the icing on the cake.”