Looking to the future: Teen paralysed by freak injury

HUNTINGDONSHIRE is being urged to dig deep to help a 15-year-old schoolboy adapt to life in a wheelchair after a seemingly harmless incident left him facing the prospect of never walking unaided again.

Seventeen weeks ago Dean Symmons was an ordinary school pupil, playing softball with friends and trying not to think about his GCSE exam the following morning.

Twenty-four hours later, the teenager was looking down a hospital bed at his right toe, the only part of his body below his waist that he could still move.

Swinging to hit a softball, Dean had dislodged a disc in his spine, scraping his spinal cord and causing a bleed and clot that over the hours that followed would restrict the flow of blood to his legs.

At the end of October, after nearly five months of treatment and rehabilitation, Dean will leave the spinal unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Aylesbury to return to his home in Swift Close, St Neots.

To help him adapt to life in a chair, a trust fund is being set up that will pay for adaptations to his house, the purchase of a lightweight wheelchair, and other mobility equipment – a sum that could run to tens of thousands of pounds.

Dean says he has come to terms with the prospect of life in a wheelchair, and wants others to know what he has been through.

Most Read

“I’m not going to let being in a chair stop me leading my life,” the Longsands College pupil told The Hunts Post. “I am preparing myself for life in a chair, because then I won’t be disappointed.

“And if I recover the movement in my legs, then it will be my miracle.”

Dean was injured during a PE lesson in June, when he felt a pain “as if a knife had been stabbed into my back” as he hit a softball. However, within two hours the pain had faded and he put it out of his mind.

The following day at school, the pain returned and Dean found his legs were stiff “like a robot”, and he had to brace himself on a desk to stop himself collapsing.

An ambulance was called and at that point, Dean could only move his ankles. They had seized up by the time paramedics arrived.

The following days flashed by in a flurry of tests, scans and needles, as Dean spent a night in Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Huntingdon before being transferred to Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge.

Two weeks later, doctors were still searching for an explanation, nicknaming him their “mystery patient”, and transferred him to Hinchingbrooke for seven weeks of physiotherapy.

It was when he was moved to the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville hospital in Aylesbury that doctors finally diagnosed a spinal stroke, explaining that he had damaged his spinal cord as he had rotated to swing the softball bat.

A disc had slipped out as he rotated one way, damaged his spinal cord, and slipped back in as he turned back.

Dean’s spinal cord was not severed, meaning he has a chance of recovery, and movement has been returning slowly to his leg. He can now flex his quad muscles, move his right leg for short periods, and has limited sensation in both legs.

“The word stroke means more than it actually was in my case,” said Dean. “But really it’s just a clot.”

Dean was in Godmanchester to be fitted for a wheelchair which he will use for the next year as his condition develops.

But he is open about his chances of full recovery, and of the realities of his future.

“The way I am in a year’s time will be the way I am for the rest of my life,” said Dean. “I don’t mind talking about these things because I think people need to understand that I have accepted my future.

“I’ve lost a lot of dignity over the past four months. I used to be embarrassed about my body, but since my stroke I have wet myself in bed, nurses have had to clean me up and shower me.”

The trust fund will help Dean in his ultimate goal – to lead as normal a life as possible.

“It’s either mope around and think ‘poor me’ or it’s get up, work at it and make the best of my situation,” he said. “If you put the effort in, you’ll get the effect back out.

“I feel like a fool because I took everything for granted before my accident. When I arrived at Stoke Mandeville, I felt like I was living in hell, in a world that could not be true. But I have come through that, and I won’t let being in a chair hold me back.”

INFORMATION: If you think you can help Dean and his family, contact The Hunts Post newsdesk on 01480 411481.