Nerys is 39 and lives in Ascot with her Burmese kitten Archie. A former army paramedic and active sportswoman, Nerys’ life was changed forever in October 2008 when she was just 27:
“I was out doing a quick errand on my motorbike when suddenly a car reversed off the kerb, pulling me and the bike underneath it. My legs were crushed, my head had hit the side of the car and I’d dislocated my right shoulder. That was the start of the nightmare”
Nerys spent several weeks recuperating from the accident and expected to make a good recovery, but it soon became clear that things were not going to plan:
“I’d broken bones before, and they’d always healed so I expected that this would be the same – that in eight weeks’ time I’d be fixed, my life would be back to normal, and I’d be back skiing and competing in triathlons again. But over the eight weeks, the nerves in my leg were crushed from where they’d been rotated and stretched. The nerve pain grew worse and worse, and soon became unbearable. It felt like burning fat was being poured over my legs 24/7”
Nerys was diagnosed with a neurological injury and complex pain syndrome. 12 months after her accident, she went into hospital to have surgery to try and resolve her pain, but things again took a terrible turn for the worse:
“I was under general anaesthetic for the surgery and when I woke up, I was like ‘oh, I don’t hurt anymore’. But then the consultant came over and explained that my body had reacted badly to the spinal injection that they’d given me. The reason I couldn’t feel any pain was because my body was now paralysed from the chest down”
This was the beginning of the darkest period of Nerys’ life:
“What followed was years in and out of hospitals with kidney infections, bladder infections, and pressure sores on my legs and body. I was on endless antibiotics, steroids, and nerve drugs. My blood pressure was so unstable that I couldn’t sit up, so I ended up bed-bound and weighing 18 and a half stone.
“This went on for about five years. It got so bad that I actually attempted suicide. I just hated myself so much and I hated the fact that my family and friends were wasting their time coming to see me, and I had 24-hour carers. I just thought it would have been better for them if I’d have died that day rather than what had happened”
It was at the lowest point that a visit from a stranger began to help Nerys turn her life around:
“I was lying in bed, and this huge guy walked into my bedroom and said that he was from a charity called Blesma (The Limbless Veterans Charity) and that they were going to take me skiing in a couple of week’s time. I looked at him as if he was crazy because I was bedbound, I couldn’t sit up my wheelchair for more than two minutes without passing out because of my blood pressure, and now they expected me to go skiing?!
“They flew me out to Colorado and strapped me into this contraption. For the first few hours, I couldn’t do anything, and I cried with frustration because I used to ski competitively and now, I couldn’t do anything. But the instructor came and grabbed my jacket and said, “just try!” so I did and suddenly, I was skiing. When we got to the bottom of the mountain, he turned his video camera on and captured the moment that I skied myself to the bottom of the mountain. That moment changed my life.”
Blesma continued to support Nerys back in the UK and encouraged her to get back into the sports that had been such an important part of her life before the accident. Since then, Nerys has taken part in an extraordinary number of sporting challenges. As well as being part of a team that broke a world record in the 300-mile Enduroman triathlon from London to Paris, Nerys won a record-breaking 10 medals at the 2016 Invictus Games. She then represented Wales at the Commonwealth Games in Australia before conquering Race Across America, regarded as the toughest cycle race in the world. She is now preparing to swim the English Channel – a feat that no-one paralysed from the chest down has yet achieved.
Leg and foot care remains a key part of Nerys’ routine: “I can’t feel my legs or feet, so I’ve always got to be vigilant about pressure sores or small cuts. I can forget that I’ve been sat in the same place for eight hours. I ended up with one pressure sore on my leg that went all the way through to the bone, resulting in months of dressing and hospital appointments. I’ve also got some problems with my toenails decaying and falling off because of the poor blood supply to my toes, so I regularly see my podiatrist, Jo”
13 years on from her life-changing accident, Nerys now works as a resilience teacher and speaker. She is a big believer in the power of setting yourself goals and taking even the smallest actions towards achieving them:
“I still struggle with my mental health, and I’m always going to have issues with my physical health. But the way I see is it that every day is an opportunity for me to be better in some way. That could just be something tiny like sitting out in my front garden and smiling at someone passing by. Or it could be something huge, like swimming the English Channel. Just having a goal – even the smallest of goals – helps me always look forward, even in really dark times”
Need to know more?
Find out more about foot ulcers including what to look out for
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in theses stories, the following organisations may be able to provide help and advice.
Samaritans Samaritans are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress. Call them free any time, from any phone.
Mind Mind is the UK’s leading mental health charity. They're there to make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone you can call or text for free anytime.
The Circulation Foundation The Circulation Foundation is the UK’s only dedicated vascular charity. They fund and promote research into the causes, treatment and prevention of vascular disease.
020 7205 7151
Find out more on The Circulation Foundation website
Society of Tissue Viability (The Society of Tissue Viability) aims to provide expertise in wound management to all healthcare professionals.
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