Swim and gym sessions help Mark recover from spinal injury

Aged just 49 Mark, from Hatfield, Doncaster, contracted an infection that crushed his spine and resulted in an emergency operation. Following the operation Mark couldn’t walk and was in a wheelchair but over the past decade almost daily swim and gym sessions have helped him to take the steps to recovery. Here he shares his story. 

At the end of January 2013, I was suddenly hit with a huge pain in my back. It felt like an elephant had stepped on my back. We called the paramedics and they thought I’d strained my back.  

The night before I’d been at a go karting presentation with my son and not done anything strenuous and I’d had a relaxing morning, cooked a breakfast but by lunchtime the pain appeared. 

The following day I struggled to get out of bed and was taken to A&E in an ambulance, the team there thought it was a muscle injury, but they did a CT scan and a blood test and I was sent home. 

A few days later I went to get up in the night to go to the toilet and collapsed. An MRI scan found what had caused the problem. I’d got an infection that had crushed my spine and paralysed me. We have no idea how I got the infection or where it came from but I was left unable to walk. 

It was really scary. I had to have an emergency operation in Sheffield where I was kept for a fortnight, I was then moved back to Doncaster where I had to have antibiotics dripped into my body every few hours as I recovered from the infection, I was then moved to the spinal unit at the Northern General where I remained for three months. 

When I came home to my wife and kids who were 21 and 19 at the time it was really tough. I was in a wheelchair and could walk about 10 yards but couldn’t get up the stairs and couldn’t drive or be independent. My mum, who was 68 and retired came and helped us a lot. 

We looked for a local leisure centre that could help as the medical team had advised swimming as a recovery activity. Doncaster Culture and Leisure Trust’s Adwick Leisure Complex had lifts to get in and out of the pool and the spacious changing areas that made it easy for me to use the pool. 

Mum would pick me up and the management team had kindly let me leave a wheelchair in their office, as mum wouldn’t have been able to manage that as well as me. They were really helpful and made my recovery so much easier. 

I got physio through the team at RDASH and slowly managed to get back to walking, just up and down the street at first. 

The team at Adwick helped me to use the gym gradually and there were some amazing people there who spent time with me, I think I was a bit of a challenge and they wanted to see me recover and be part of that.  

Eventually thanks to the hard work and the support I got off the crutches.  

Now, a decade on from the infection I swim six or seven times a week Armthorpe Leisure Centre and use the gym there three times I week, I use Fitness Village Balby and take part in a circuit class.  

This is amazing for me to say as when I’d had the operation, doctors were unsure if I’d ever walk again. That was a really daunting prospect for me. I’d been in the Royal Navy for ten and a half years and was always fit and active. 

The nerve damage means that I have pins and needles a lot of the time but at almost 60 I’ve got a reasonable level of fitness back.  

I can’t thank the various teams at DCLT enough for the support they’ve given me over the years. Physical activity has not only helped me to recover my strength and ability to get about it has also made me feel happier, it can have such a positive impact on life. 

My mum, who is 78 now is a great example of that, she swims three times a week, swimming up to 24 lengths each visit.  

It has been a long road to recovery and one that I need to continue to work at but I’m happy to say that the future looks brighter.