Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

I'll walk again

An Ulster teenager who broke his back in a freak accident while playing rugby almost seven weeks ago has spoken publicly for the first time.

Jamie Graham's spinal cord was severely damaged after he collided with another player during a friendly interclub match in Newcastle on November 4.

The former Methodist College student, who was studying business, finance and accounting in Newcastle, was playing one of the best halves of his life when the unthinkable happened.

The ball had spilled onto the ground not far from where Jamie was stationed. As he scrambled to pick it up, another player from the other team crashed into him, changing his life forever.

"I knew exactly what happened as soon as it happened," Jamie explained.

"I had a gut feeling to be honest. Before any match I would normally dwell more than probably the average rugby player about what could happen.

"I get really nervous before matches and I especially remember before this match thinking what could happen. I remember thinking that's the game, that's the risk and I accepted that and I played the match anyway.

"I don't know why I actually felt like that, I just did.

"So as soon as it happened I knew I had broken my back.

"The physio came on and she thought it could have been my nerve or that my muscles could have been in shock and tightened up but I knew. I could only move the whole top of my body and not below a certain point at all."

The match was called to a halt and Jamie was rushed to North Tyneside Hospital where the initial diagnosis was made.

Because there was so much damage to his spinal cord, the 19-year-old was transferred to the spinal unit at Middlesborough Hospital. He then underwent an immediate operation to stop the cord from bleeding and spent the next three weeks recovering before being moved to Musgrave Park in Belfast.

Since then the talented teenager has made considerable progress.

He has already completed his first overnight stay and is going home for four days at Christmas.

And while Jamie says he is looking forward to going home, having to adjust to everything that has happened have been very hard.

"Christmas this year is going to be pretty crap," he explained.

"I don't even want anything. It's going to be a different Christmas.

"I think with everything that has happened it's been hard for everyone. Mum hasn't got the decorations up or a tree. I think its been hard for them but I get to go home for four days."

While it has been extremely hard for him to cope, the avid rugby fan said he had found strength in his beliefs.

"Well one thing I would say is that I am a Christian and my faith has been a big thing for me.

"When it happened I seemed to have a massive amount of strength on that day and the first thing I did was pray.

"I knew what had happened and I started praying. Normally I wouldn't do that in front of my friends and stuff and I only knew one other person on that pitch. It was one of my best friends and I called him over and said, 'Sam start praying - it's not good', and I suppose that is how I have been able to cope; that and my family and friends who have been amazing."

Since he arrived at Musgrave Park Jamie has been undergoing intense therapy and training so he can adjust to 'life on the outside'.



But there is one thing that has definitely made Jamie's adjustment to his new life a little bit easier.

"The staff here at Musgrave have been great. They have really helped me a lot.

"It also helps being around people who are in the same situation as me.

"There are four other guys here who are about the same age as me that I can talk to and ask questions."



Despite having broken his back while playing rugby, Jamie says he still loves the game and will continue to support his beloved Ulster and Ireland teams.

He also says he wants to raise awareness about spinal injuries, given his happened so easily.

"A guy from the England Rugby Football Union came over to talk to me after it happened and he said they have an average of 2.5 spinal injuries in a year from national to under 12 level in the whole of England which I thought was super low," he explained.

"Mine was the first this year.

"His point was just that rugby is not as dangerous as they make out which I thought was a fair point because it took nothing to break my back. It was a nothing challenge, there wasn't even that much force.

"I just thought why doesn't it happen to more people then if it is that dangerous?"

Jamie's doctors have told him that it is highly unlikely that he will ever walk again.

He broke his T12 vertebrae and damaged his spinal cord.

But the optimistic teenager has not lost all hope. He believes, that one day, he will walk again.

"They are not too hopeful of me walking again but I still think I am going to walk again.

"That is another thing that is keeping me going. I don't care what the doctors say, I know I am going to walk again."

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