Coping beyond adversity: living with a spinal cord injury

Published on October 27, 2011 Updated on February 29, 2016   25 min

Other Talks in the Series: Neurotrauma

0:00
Everybody living with a spinal cord injury has a story to tell about how their life has been turned upside down in an instant with significant changes and adjustments far beyond what most able-bodied people could ever care to imagine. This presentation, Coping Beyond Adversity, Living with a Spinal Cord Injury, will hopefully enlighten you into that existence. Hi, my name is Gary Allsopp and I'm a quadriplegic due to an accident playing Australian Rules Football in 1989. This is my story.
0:37
I was born on the 20th of October 1960 and I grew up in the suburb of North Blackburn in the east of Melbourne in Australia. As long as I can remember, I had a passion for sport, any sport. Tennis, golf, basketball, it didn't really matter. But particularly, cricket and Australian Rules Football. Another great love of mine growing up was music. I always knew the latest songs in the charts and on the radio as well as having a fairly extensive record collection. In the early 1980s, somehow both of these passions came together when I decided to start DJ-ing at several functions at my football club, which led to a professional and lucrative DJ and singing career that lasted up until my accident. It was in this industry that I met my wife who was a dancer. And we married in 1987, bought a new house, our life could not have been better until one day, fate stepped in.
1:36
It was April 29, 1989 playing for my local football club, Warrandyte when I ran onto the field, full of confidence not knowing what lay ahead in my future. It was in the first quarter of the game when I ran in with my head down to pick up the ball with someone directly chasing me behind. As I bent down, another player came in from the front and bumped me directly on my head, forcing my neck downwards and immediately I collapsed unconscious. I was stretchered off the ground and I came to in the dressing rooms, not knowing exactly what had happened to myself. All I knew was that I could not feel my arms and legs and I was screaming in pain like I had never experienced before. Even then I was not aware of what was going on and how my future would turn out. I was transported to the Spinal Unit at the Austin Hospital via helicopter. My life had significantly changed right there and now in one second with one bump playing the sport that I had grown up loving. The irony of the situation was that I could have been at a friend of my wife's wedding but I chose not to let the team down and play football instead. They say life is a series of choices that we make. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong option that day, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
2:53
When I first got to the hospital, I was taken to the intensive care unit where I spent two long weeks not really knowing what my outcome was going to be. The diagnosis was that I had fractured my fifth cervical vertebrae and dislocated my sixth. And it was the dislocation that was resting on my spinal cord. Three days after my accident, I had a spinal fusion operation to take the sixth vertebrae away from my spinal cord. But unfortunately, it had already damaged the spinal cord significantly and the end diagnosis was a C5/6 complete quadriplegic. One of the hardest things I had to face was hearing the doctors when they delivered their diagnosis to me and my family. I was told in no uncertain terms, "Gary, you are a complete quadriplegic and unfortunately, this means you won't be able to walk again and you will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of your life." Hearing that is one tough pill to swallow. Being a very determined person, I always thought I could beat the odds but unfortunately, when your spinal cord is damaged so badly, no amount of determination can make you recover. The next part of your hospitalization is rehabilitation. It is extremely tough, rigorous, and painful as you go through physio and the therapists attempt to stretch your limbs to achieve maximum movement. The whole time you are also dealing with everything psychologically as well as the loss of physicality. After seven long months, I left the Austin Hospital, which I liken to a prison sentence, a quadriplegic, a much different person than I was that day I ran onto the football field.
4:40
To explain to you the effects to my body in simple terms, I am paralyzed for around the chest down. So I cannot move or walk and I have no sensory feeling, that is I cannot feel if someone touches me below that area. I have limited movement in my arms and hands and my fingers don't function as they normally should. So I am unable to pick things up efficiently, write, or type the way an able-bodied person would. I also have suffered loss of my bowel, bladder, and sexual function.
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Coping beyond adversity: living with a spinal cord injury

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