Belfast Telegraph

Family of man paralysed in fall mount appeal to fund specialist treatment in US

£25k target for Tyrone cyclist's rehab after accident in Swiss Alps

By Sophie Inge

The girlfriend and family of a man left paralysed from the chest down after a mountain biking accident have launched a fundraising campaign for special treatment.

Jonathan Weir (22), an electrical engineer from Moy in Co Tyrone, was on holiday with friends in the Swiss Alps when a jump he was performing on July 17 went wrong and he landed head-first.

Although he was wearing full body armour he suffered an immediate loss of feeling from the chest down after fracturing part of his spine.

He was airlifted to Lausanne University Hospital, where he underwent eight hours of surgery to prevent further damage to his back.

His girlfriend of six years Michelle Devine (23), father Austin and brothers Stephen and Ciaran flew out to be at his bedside. Stephen (27) was the first to hear the news. "I was out cycling when the consultant rang and said Jonathan had broken his back and was in surgery," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "I returned home in shock and booked the next flight out to see him."

For Michelle, the nature of Jonathan's injury took some time to sink in.

"When an accident happens in a foreign country there's a lot more panic because there are more communication barriers," she explained.

After spending two weeks in intensive care, Jonathan was flown by air ambulance to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, then taken to Musgrave Park Hospital's spinal unit a week later for rehabilitation.

Four months on he still has no feeling below his chest and is only able to partially move his arms. With Jonathan's rehabilitation programme scheduled to end on December 21, his family has now launched a bid to raise money for further specialist treatment.

"They give you a two-year window to regain all the feeling and movement you can, so the plan is to do as much as I can," said Jonathan.

After doing some research, the family decided that the best option was to send him to Next Step Orlando in the US - a programme that helps people adjust to life with a spinal cord injury.

It also includes intense physio treatment using an Ekso - a portable machine that stimulates dormant muscles. "Further down the line, we're looking at getting him an FES bike - an electrical stimulation bike that allows electrical signals to be generated in the nerves in his legs," said Michelle.

But the equipment and treatment that Jonathan needs come with a high price tag - the family has estimated it will cost around £25,000.

Unable to bear the burden alone, relatives have launched a fundraising campaign on the JustGiving website. To date, they have raised £750 from family and friends.

"It's good that people are interested and trying to help, so I don't feel I'm on my own," Jonathan said. The family is also planning fundraising events for next year, including a raffle and a virtual horse-racing day.

Along with Michelle, relatives are all determined to give Jonathan the best possible chance of recovery. "He is a very strong-minded person," said Stephen. "I think if anybody can do it, it's him - he's too stubborn to give up."

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