Back on His Feet

Published: March 27, 2005  |  Source: sunderlandtoday.co.uk
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MIRACLE man John Burgess is back on his feet and defying doctors’ diagnosis just six months after being told he might never walk again.

Doctors gave the dad-of-three little hope of recovery after he suffered a broken neck when a scrum collapsed while he was playing for Sunderland RUFC’s second string.

Initially John, a science teacher at Pennywell School, was paralysed from the neck down – now through sheer willpower, the 38-year-old has amazed everyone by standing up – aided only by crutches.

“It’s great. The kids are saying ‘this is it, dad’s back’, because I’m getting better, so it’s great for me and for them,” he said.

“It means I can do different things on my own now without totally relying too much on other people.”

“But it’s still early days and I know I’ve got a long way to go yet.”

The 38-year-old is now back at home with family, wife Karen, 37 a trainee teacher and children, Jack, 13, Vivienne, nine and seven-year-old Lilian.

He spent four months in James Cook Hospital, in Middlesbrough, after breaking two Vertebrae in his neck during a rugby match in October. Either fracture could have severed his spinal cord.

But today, John is looking forward to a brighter future. Tomorrow his team mates are playing a charity match this weekend to raise cash for a charity which helps people paralysed by sports injuries.

John can put a little weight on his left leg and has built up enough strength in his upper body to allow him to get about on the crutches.

He says after the accident, he immediately knew his injuries were bad.

“I realised something very serious was wrong straight away,” he said.

“I could feel people touching my face but apart from that, nothing.”

The game was stopped and John was taken to Durham University Hospital before being transferred to the James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough.

The injury devastated his family and shocked fellow rugby players, as well as staff and pupils at Pennywell School.

But John began showing signs of improvement quickly and gradually started to regain feeling in his fingers, arms and upper body, along with a little bit of strength in his left leg.

“About five weeks after my accident they winched me up,” he said.

“For the first time I felt human again. That was the catalyst for me. I just wanted to be out of there.”

John has been going to the gym five times a week and is determined to walk unaided again.

“I’ve been working hard to get myself to this stage,” he said.

“The doctors are cagey about a long-term prognosis and it is early days . But the rugby charity Support Paraplegics in Rugby Enterprise, (Spire), the club and my family have just been phenomenal.

“That’s why I’m working so hard to be walking again. I want to show them their support has not been in vain.”

John is now working towards getting back to work and regain his independence.

“I can’t wait to get back in to the classroom,” he said.

Despite his accident, John says he is still a rugby fan.

“I know I’ll never play again, but I still love the game. Accidents happen, but they are rare. This was just a freak accident,” he said.

• John is helping to organise a charity rugby match tomorrow with money raised going to Spire and the children’s ward at Durham University Hospital where the daughter of a team mate died after contracting meningitis.

The charity match starts at 1pm at Ashbrooke Rugby ground. Entry is free and there will be children’s entertainment and a raffle with prizes incluinge a signed ball from England World Cup hero and Newcastle Falcons star, Johnny Wilkinson.