From father to quadriplegic: How rehab gave me my life back
AFTER the accident the first thing I wanted to do was tell everybody I was going to walk again.
Just days after Christmas in 2014, I fell off the balcony of my Sydney northern beaches home. Our lives turned upside down in an instant.
With my wife Jo by my side, I was rushed to Royal North Shore Hospital where it was confirmed that I had suffered a broken neck and crushed spinal cord as a result of the fall.
I suddenly became a C4 incomplete quadriplegic — a condition that left me with limited use of my legs and left arm, and paralysis of my right arm.
The accident took away a lot of what I used to be able to do. Daily tasks had to be relearned. Being able to sit, drink or put a T-shirt on was a cause for celebration.
Small things like being able to drink a cup of coffee for the first time was huge.
One of my biggest adjustments following the injury was to accept life as a father with a spinal cord injury. With limited movement and walking ability, finding alternative ways to stay active and interact with my daughter has been an ongoing challenge.
Sometimes she says to me: “I wish you were like you were before.”
It’s tough but we’re getting there. It’s a learning experience.
Following a five-month stay in Royal Rehab’s Spinal Injury Unit, I continued my rehabilitation journey from home. This is where I found out about the organisation’s adaptive sport and recreation (Return2Sport) programs.
After trying one cycling session I was hooked. I began cycling regularly with their assistance and it’s made an incredible difference.
I started with a big, three-wheel cargo bike, didn’t get very far, and got pushed all the way home.
We tried different bikes and different pedals. Now we’re doing laps around Narrabeen Lake and cycle up hills. It’s been an absolute life changer just being out and about.
Having the opportunity to get back to sport and recreation has given me the chance to feel connected to my life, family and friends.
But, I’m still trying to come to terms with life with a spinal cord injury.
Finding the motivation to push through rehab hasn’t always been easy. It can be mentally as well as physically draining. You have to accept this new reality without dwelling on it too much. It was really the support of my family and the positivity and patience of the Royal Rehab clinicians who have helped me over those bumps.
I’ve been trying to take each day as it comes and trust the people around me to help with my progress.
I didn’t imagine that I’d be able to play golf (something I’m very passionate about) again with a paralysed right arm and limited left arm movements, but I’ve been able to do that and more. I’m just trying to find a way to get things working again. And everything I do is for my wife and daughter.
Life for my family has changed drastically over the past two years but with the amazing support Royal Rehab clinicians have given me, I now cycle twice a week, surf, participate in yoga, play golf and more.
Funding for these programs only comes from generous members of the public. Community programs like this have allowed me to find ways to remain an active part of my family and my community.
And I hope they are able to continue supporting people living with a spinal cord injury far into the future.
Darren will be sharing his story at the upcoming Royal Rehab Foundation Fundraising Gala on Saturday May 27 at the Hyatt Regency Sydney. Darren will be joined by MC Andrew Daddo and entertainment by Darren Percival.
By Darren Houghton
Darren Houghton is a father, husband and former Managing Director at Sony DADC.