Paralysed rugby player has steely resolve to walk again

Published: April 25, 2004
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Paralysed rugby player Vaughan de Groen is going to the United States determined to confound those who said he would never regain mobility after his spine was broken in a game.

Already he has recovered more movement in his arms than he was warned to expect after his rugby injury left him a tetraplegic.

But with ACC providing only one hour of physiotherapy a week, he says he will never make further progress in New Zealand.

The 28-year-old is heading for Carlsbad, California, in June for six weeks of unconventional spinal therapy at the Project Walk centre. He will follow a programme used by paralysed actor Christopher Reeve.

When the Thames father-of-one leaves, it will be nearly a year since the accident. On June 21 last year his head was forced back during a tackle or maul, twisting his spinal cord and fracturing his spine between the C4 and C5 bones.

Initially he was told he would get back only partial movement in his right arm, he would not be able to use his left arm and he would not operate a manual wheelchair. He now moves both arms and uses a manual chair.

But he wants to gain more movement and, ultimately, to walk.

The Project Walk centre uses an exercise programme to control spasms experienced by many people with spinal injuries. It was developed by specialists in non-traditional methods. The goal is full recovery.

Two New Zealand tetraplegics, hang-glider Geoff Dossetor and equestrian Catriona Williams, have attended Project Walk and a centre may open in New Zealand.

Mr de Groen said results differed for each patient.

“But there are people who have had very good results and picked more movement and mobility from the treatment.”

Mr de Groen’s wife, Rochelle, and their 2-year-old daughter Caitlyn will accompany him.

The treatment is expensive – the first week is US$1600 ($2545), with each following month around US$4000 ($6365) – and ACC does not provide funding. The de Groens will use money from a trust fund set up soon after the accident.

Since his injury, Mr de Groen has had an ongoing battle with ACC. When he returned home after five months in hospital, his application for funding had not been approved and the bathroom in his home was unfinished.

For more than two months he had to go to a rest home each day to wash.

And on Friday, after six months of indecision, ACC turned down his application for an adapted car.