The girlfriend who refused to give up on fiancé Mark after fall left him paralysed
The girlfriend of blind adventurer Mark Pollock has told how he tried to split up with her as he lay in intensive care in hospital after breaking his back in a devastating fall.
But Simone George refused to give up on Mark, who was left paralysed and whose inspirational story has now been made into a film.
She was just four weeks away from her wedding day when she got a call telling her that her fiancé Mark, who lost his sight aged 22, had been badly hurt in the fall.
When the call came there was a sense of "this is just too much for one person to bear", she told The Times Magazine.
Mark, who grew up in Holywood, Co Down, has been blind in one eye since the age of five and the sight in his other was only sustained through a series of operations and a raft of medication.
Yet when Simone met him, six years before the fall, he was not a frail, weak or vulnerable man, rather everything about him was "elegant and independent".
"Whenever I had seen him in Dublin, he was always with different girls. The bouncers knew him; the flower sellers knew him; everybody knew him and everybody loved him", she said.
Despite his lack of sight, Mark needed "very little" from Simone and so his blindness was not a problem for their relationship.
But after his fall, which would become the subject of a high-profile court case, all that changed.
Simone was staying with her sister in Killiney when the call came at 4am on July 2, 2010.
Reflecting on that day, she said: "These terrible things always happen in the middle of the night."
The 39-year-old had been out watching the Henley Royal Regatta with friends before heading to bed early, becoming disorientated and falling from an open window on the second storey of the house.
His friends were drinking wine outside when his barely-clothed body crashed to the ground at their feet. One friend had to fish his tongue from his throat as he lay choking.
Mark's skull was fractured, there were bleeds on his brain and he was left paralysed from the waist down.
He was transferred to the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital where he was operated on and placed in intensive care. The heartbreak continued for Simone when she arrived at her fiancé's bedside and two days after his fall he attempted to end their relationship.
"You didn't sign up for this," he told her through floods of tears.
But Simone refused to be shaken off. "You are not breaking up with me in intensive care," she told him.
The pair agreed to reassess the situation in six months when Mark was no longer fighting for his life, but five years later they are still together, though not married.
Wedding bells are not something which they think of favourably any more, presuming their guests would find the ceremony too upsetting.
"I remember two of my best friends asking how would Mark know what my wedding dress was like and when I explained we'd have to pause for him to feel it, they burst into tears - and that was when he was just blind," Simone explained.
The couple's successes outweigh their many problems, having managed to stay together when so few can survive such a tragedy, but their challenges stretch far beyond a cancelled wedding day.
Mark's paralysis means the couple's hopes of having children have been all but dashed, and the normal intimacy which they shared before the accident has been eradicated.
"Very few relationships survive paralysis", admitted Simone. "Even in the early days I would see people in the hospital whose marriages had broken up."
In the first six months after the injury the couple were subjected to meeting after meeting with healthcare professionals who explained that fertility treatment would be their only chance of starting a family.
"They were mechanical and awful," said Simone, who is now 40. "Practicalities were discussed but there was no psychosexual support.
"It makes us feel vulnerable talking about sexual function, but it's important that we do."
As far as the physical side-effects of the fall go, Mark has to have carers with him in his specially-adapted Dublin town house from 7am to 11pm every day and when the couple want to be alone Simone has to attend to him, helping him into the shower or emptying his urine bottle.
But just as Mark didn't allow his blindness to limit his life before the fall, winning two Commonwealth rowing medals and leading his own motivational talks, the 39-year-old has now committed himself to medical research where he works tirelessly towards progress.
Now part of a pioneering team of researchers looking into a cure for paralysis, and while Mark isn't convinced the research will be enough to cure him, he is happy to be contributing to a project that could help others in the future.
This summer the High Court awarded Mark £2m towards the costs of his injury from the public liability insurance policy in place in the house he had been staying at with friends.
Much was made of the fact the Mark decided to sue, and many wrongly believed that he took his friends to court personally.
Mark's story of determination has now been made into a film titled Unbreakable and the couple will take part in Q&A screenings at the Picturehouse Central in London and the Irish Heritage Centre, Manchester, on October 14 (markpollocktrust.org/film).