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Family's nightmare as son (13) paralysed by stroke on Spanish holiday

By Nevin Farrell

Published 11/07/2016

Alastair Bull (13) is currently in a rehabilitation facility in Spain
Alastair Bull (13) is currently in a rehabilitation facility in Spain

A father has told how a family holiday in Spain turned into a nightmare after his son suffered an extremely rare spinal stroke.

Simon Bull from Bangor, Co Down, and his family - including 13-year-old son Alastair - were enjoying a sunshine trip to Salou when illness struck.

On June 23 Alastair, who attends Bangor Grammar, woke on the third morning of the family trip.

Over breakfast the young rugby player mentioned his back was sore but dismissed it.

He went to the pool to play with his brothers Ryan (14) and Tristan (4), and sister Lucy (6).

However, he left after a while saying he needed to lie down.

And when he couldn't move his legs a doctor was called.

He asked for an air ambulance to take Alastair to the Vall d'Hebron Hospital in Barcelona.

Dad Simon, himself well known in rugby circles in Bangor, told the Belfast Telegraph last night his son had suffered a spinal stroke, which has left him paralysed from just below the chest.

He said: "The doctors believe he had a spinal stroke which is basically where blood forms a blockage in the spine and prevents blood flow.

"It is extremely rare.

"Comprehending what happened was very difficult because we didn't know this was possible."

He added: "The injury is no different than had Alastair been in a car accident, thrown from a horse or fell out of a window or something like that and fractured his spine.

"It was very, very difficult.

"It was a struggle to take it in and it took a while for it to sink in just how serious it was."

Brave Alastair was in intensive care for a week and is now at The Guttman Institute, a rehabilitation centre near Barcelona, where his mother has been at his bedside.

His dad and siblings returned home in recent days.

Mr Bull said medics have now told them Alastair is fit to travel home.

The family are clinging to the hope that, with rehabilitation, he will be able to walk again.

They hope to be able to bring Alastair back from Spain this week, but as there are no paediatric rehabilitation facilities available in Northern Ireland, he is likely to go to Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England.

Mr Bull said he had been "overwhelmed' by a JustGiving online fundraising campaign for Alastair.

"We have had a lot of people who contributed who are close friends, but also a lot of people donated anonymously."

On the JustGiving page it says: 'The stroke caused Alastair a severe spinal cord injury.

"He is paralysed from just below his chest.

"The degree with which he will recover is unclear and the extent to which he will undergo rehabilitation is also unclear.

"What is clear is Alastair, his siblings, his parents, and his wider family, have a long journey ahead of them.

"Alastair has shown great courage and resolve in the past weeks. We are looking to raise funds to support Alastair through his rehabilitation, to ensure that in the long-term Alastair will be able to continue to be the active, inquisitive, teenager he has grown into.

'Ultimately we are looking to establish a charity to support Alastair, and other children who have suffered spinal strokes, and to raise awareness.

"Thank you for your support and we will keep everyone informed of Alastair's progress in the coming months and years."

The campaign aims to raise £25,000 to help Alastair through his rehabilitation and ensure he reaches his full potential. Last night the figure stood at over £8,500.

  • If you would like to help, visit

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