Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Health

'For a long time my goal was to walk again - but now all I want is to get rid of this pain'

To hear a grown man bellowing in pain is something that jars in the memory. Sadly, within the last month, I've heard two men in extreme physical distress. Despite having different conditions, both described the same severe cramping and sharp burning sensation.

One of them was a very popular haulage contractor and cyclist dying of cancer, at 48. Thankfully, his pain was blunted quickly by high doses of morphine, administered by a particularly devoted nurse in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.

The other person I witnessed in agony is millionaire businessman Trevor Leckey (47), who was paralysed in a horrific quad-bike circuit race in Aghadowey in 2006. I heard the affable father-of-five before I saw him, at his Stoneyford Concrete plant outside Lisburn.

"Aaaaaaw," he yelled repeatedly, clearly audible from the reception area at foot of the stairs leading to his office.

I looked in alarm at his receptionist.

"I know, it's terrible," she said. "He has those spasms a lot."

That awful suffering is classified as chronic neuropathic deferred pain. Trevor has endured it for almost 10 years, since he lost control of his bike and crashed into a metal pole, severing his spine and leaving him unconscious for almost two months. Despite undergoing physiotherapy at Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast, the burly six-footer never regained the use of his legs.

One of the biggest suppliers of ready-mix concrete in Ireland, he's a bit abashed when I'm sent into his office.

"I didn't know you were down there," he apologises, wheeling over to greet me from his £5,000 wheelchair. "When the pain hits, I have to let a roar out of me. I don't sleep well and go outside at night so the children won't hear me. It's bad enough for them seeing me like this, without hearing that."

Younger-looking than his years, courtesy of a dense hair transplant and a boyish face, Trevor lives beside his business HQ, with his wife Lisa (47), daughters Kori (19) and Lauren (17) and sons Jamie (16), Zac (14) and Lance (10). His parents and brother Colin (53), who works with him, live nearby.

He is paralysed from the bottom part (T12) of the thoracic spine. None of the various medications he has been prescribed have been effective for his condition. They include ketamine, oxycodone (known in the US as hillbilly heroin) and fentanyl, the powerful opiate that killed superstar musician Prince.

"I've tried a baclofen (muscle relaxant) pump, a morphine pump, methadone and electrical stimulation of the spine," he says. "I've tried 47 different kinds of tablets. I've been for treatments in Dusseldorf and the Walton Centre in Liverpool, Israel and Colorado but none of them worked.

"I've been in contact with hospitals all over the world, but no one seems able to help me and the pain is so unbearable, I'm bed or couch-bound when I'd far rather be here working."

In desperation, Trevor tried - unwittingly - an illegal opiate-based substance given him to him by a well-meaning acquaintance. "Someone had given it to this fella for his mother, who was suffering from cancer," he explains. "I didn't know what it was but I was that desperate I'd have tried anything. It was this black, tarry sticky stuff and it put me off my head for two days. My dad said to him, 'what the hell did you give this eejit? He's away with it.' My eyes were out like stalks. It did ease the pain but I couldn't function in that state."

A plain-spoken, droll countryman, Trevor had been quad-bike racing for 25 years when he was struck down, at 40. Ranked number two, just behind Colin McRea in the sport, he had raced all over Europe and was in the lead on that fateful September morning in Aghadowey, 2006.

He has poster-size photographs of the practice session above the panoramic windows of his office, which overlook the yard at Stoneyford Concrete. They show the fit and healthy frame of a fearless rider, a sportsman at the height of his power.

"I was never mad to win - I raced to get away from work and I was happy if I was in the top five," recalls Trevor, an award-winning businessman. "I was 13 stones then, but after that I went up to 18 stones seven pounds. I'm down to 13 stones now. Funnily enough, my right leg, which I can't move, hasn't withered like Ivor Jess's leg - he's our health and safety man.

"He was paralysed from falling off a bicycle when he was cycling round the lough for kidney research. But there's still plenty of muscle - or fat - on the upper part of my right leg."

He shows me an amateur video of the Aghadowey race day, which begins with him flying in on his own helicopter. A friend was piloting, as Trevor was planning to drive his bike home in a lorry that evening.

The footage was filmed from a distance from behind, but Trevor's bike can just about be seen in front of a pack of quads and suddenly, veering off to the left, crashing through a fence and hitting a concrete gate post.

The enormous boom of the impact is both shocking and sickening.

"I was at a funeral for another racer, Darran Lindsay, on the Tuesday and I got injured on the Saturday," he says, indicating a framed photo of a smiling young blond rider. "I don't know to this day what happened, neither does my team mate. I was doing 80 or 90mph, peaking to shuffle round a corner.

"My dad was at the corner; he thought I was dead. My rib cage was broken and I was unconscious, but when they put a pipe down my throat for me to breathe, I had a really bad reaction and thrashed out. They had to knock me out to get me to the Causeway Hospital."

Critically ill, Trevor was placed in an induced coma to be transferred, with a police escort, to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Three years previously, in December 2003, rock star Ozzy Osbourne broke his collarbone and six ribs when his quad bike overturned in the grounds of his Buckinghamshire home. Trevor's injuries were much worse.

"When I woke up, I couldn't speak properly because of the tracheotomy," he says. "The first person I saw standing there was my dad. Apparently I asked him 'what year is it?'

"I knew something was wrong, but there was no pain at that stage. My dad explained what had happened but it meant nothing to me; I couldn't take it in. Once I was out of intensive care, after about 10 days, he had to break the news that I'd never walk again. He has been brilliant and a great support to me throughout the whole thing - but I still couldn't take it in."

Reality hit home, though, when Trevor was transferred to Musgrave Park Hospital for rehabilitation. He sank into depression and tried to take his own life the following March. "The pain had started by then. I had my will written and took a strip of sleeping tablets. Then washed them down with a can of Coke.

"I woke up later that Sunday night. I was cross that I was still alive.

"Then my dad took me to Lagan Valley Hospital to see two psychiatrists. One of the them said, 'Did you mean it?'

"I was so angry. There was a glass table in the room and I put it round them and left."

Trevor was prescribed anti-depressants, which he credits with helping him cope. Although he tries to hide it, I can see him wincing hard in agony occasionally. A flush spreads from his neck up over his face and a sweat breaks out on his upper lip. The pain brings tears to his eyes, but he fights to keep them from dropping.

It's terrible to witness. Surely something can be done to help him?

"Well, the hydrotherapy pool helps, but you'd need to stay in it all day," he sighs with a half-smile. "I have tried two faith healers but that didn't work. I'm not bitter against God; I've only myself to blame for this. I went to church for a while, but I quit a while ago."

He goes on: "I've also acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Neither of those helped either. And I tried a skeleton walking-frame (Powered Exoskeleton Re-Walk system) but I couldn't sit in it correctly.

"I was able to walk in it a bit - it felt great; unreal, but I could only get so far. I still see the physio I fought with every day in Musgrave."

After trying unsuccessfully to get back into racing on the purpose-built track on his farm, Trevor employed a doctor to travel to conferences in search of treatments for him. As a result of the doctor's findings, he went to a clinic in Zurich, Switzerland in 2010, for five days of stem cell treatment, which he hoped would give him back the use of his legs.

The treatment didn't work but Trevor, a charitable person who sponsors his local GAA team, still supports stem-cell research and works to help other people here who have been paralysed as a result of breaking their back.

He visits patients at Musgrave Park Hospital and has raised over £100,000 for the hospital. He also produced a DVD to show him still hard at work at Stoneyford Concrete despite his injury, having retaken his HGV licence test so that he can drive lorries again.

And, in another act of social consciousness, Trevor is using some of his land on the Causeway End Road area of Lisburn to build a £4.5m nursing home specifically for people with dementia. He decided he had to do something after watching a documentary about the way some people with Alzheimer's disease and dementia were being treated in homes in America.

"I was watching a programme and couldn't believe the way some of these people were being treated - it was shocking. Since then I have been determined to do something," he explains. "I've applied for planning permission to build a four-level nursing home with 75 bedrooms.

"There is a serious need for a facility like this and if it was someone I knew who had dementia, I would want them to go somewhere like this."

Ironically, since he lodged the plans for the care home, Trevor's mother Florence (78) has been diagnosed with a form of dementia.

"She can still talk to me and read the papers, and hopefully we'll have her for years to come. But there are others who are less well-off and I had the site sitting there, so I might as well put it to good use. Some people have to travel miles to see their loved ones with dementia, so having this on their doorstep would make so much of a difference."

Building is due to start on the site later this year. In the meantime, he has not lost hope of a cure for his pain.

"For a long time after I got home, my goal was to walk again," he concludes.

"Now I know that I won't, all I want to do now is to get rid of the pain. All I can do is keep on looking for help."

  • Trevor Leckey can be contacted at

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