By JASON ELLERY
On 25 April 2011 my life changed forever. Although I didn’t know it at the time, in an instant, the kind of future I imagined myself had been erased. I was 24.
It was one of the last days of my snowboarding trip in Alberta, Canada.
It all happened so quickly: the point that will forever divide my life’s before and after. Something went wrong and my feet suddenly went from under me. I landed on my neck. I must have lost consciousness briefly, but then I just lay there. Motionless.
After a seven-hour surgery session, I woke up in the intensive care unit and was given a diagnosis of quadriplegia. At one level, the diagnosis hit me like a huge, engulfing tsunami. It just swept me up and threw me around, along with a million different emotions and thoughts. At another level, I think the reality of quadriplegia is something that took me – and probably takes most people afflicted with it – a while, it was a process.
There is no way that you can grasp the multitude of ways spinal cord injury changes your day-to-day life. There is far more to it than being in a wheelchair. From when I wake up, everything I do throughout the day brings with it challenges I never faced before the accident. Toiletting, showering, getting breakfast, all these things take longer. It has taken a while to get used to factoring in how long certain tasks will take, and building the patience and endurance to manage it.
My wife, Nicole, has been my fellow companion on this challenging journey. Words could not express how much she does for me in so many ways, practically and emotionally. She has been my rock through it all, and I had the utmost admiration for her patience and strength.
We married earlier this year. It was a special day. For both of us, it symbolised our love’s triumph — we have come out on top despite the accident and all the ways our lives have changed because of it.
There are three things I hope that people will take from my story. Firstly, I hope it makes them realise that the wheelchair is not the person – the person in the wheelchair has a life like anyone else, with ups and downs, love and laughs. Second, I hope they see that for people with spinal cord injury, the challenges go beyond being in a wheelchair. There are a whole range of things that affect my day to day life – from the inability to control my body temperature to spasm – and these health issues can make life difficult. And finally, I hope people think about supporting medical research into spinal cord injury. Through research, discoveries and treatments can be found that make a huge difference to the lives of 10,000-plus Australians who live with spinal cord injury.
Jason Ellery is an ambassador for the Spinal Research Institute and a member of the Australian Wheelchair Rugby team (the Steelers), who became the world champions last month after beating Canada.
For more information about medical research on spinal cord injury, and how you can help today, go to www.thesri.org