ED JACKSON was a rugby pro with bright future. The next he dived into a pool and shattered his spine

Like me, you probably have a lucky number, one that follows you everywhere like a guardian angel.

Mine is eight. Throughout my professional rugby career I played number eight, and I met my fiancée Lois on January 8. So it came as no surprise to me that April 8, 2017, a Saturday, was the first scorching hot day of the year, something I’d been looking forward to after a long dreary winter.

Some family friends had invited me, my dad and stepmum over to their house for lunch and a swim in their pool and I was excited by the thought of cooling off and spending a good hour floating on a lilo.

Life had been pretty good recently and I felt that everything was slotting into place. I was then 28 and Lois and I were living in Cardiff where I had just signed another two-year contract with my rugby team, the Dragons, and we were preparing for our summer wedding in the Tuscan countryside the following year.

I kicked off my shoes and unbuttoned my shirt. Humming to myself, I imagined the swimming pool at the Italian villa where we would marry, filled with all of our friends.

Not realising that the ripples from a water feature made the pool look deeper than it was, I dived in. Immediately, a shockwave rolled through my body; I had hit my head on the tiles at the bottom. Everything went black.

Ed Jackson was 28 when he dove into a pool and hit his head on the tiles at the bottom, dislocating two vertebrae at the bottom of his neck and the disc between them exploding

Ed Jackson was 28 when he dove into a pool and hit his head on the tiles at the bottom, dislocating two vertebrae at the bottom of his neck and the disc between them exploding

Ed Jackson was 28 when he dove into a pool and hit his head on the tiles at the bottom, dislocating two vertebrae at the bottom of his neck and the disc between them exploding

There was a loud ringing in my ears as my vision returned. I glanced around; I was still at the bottom. After ten years in professional rugby, I’d had my fair share of knocks, but this . . . I’d never hit my head like this before.

I tried to stand and check if I had cut myself. Nothing responded. I tried again. Nothing. My arms and legs hung limply at my sides. The only thing I could do was move my head. I was completely immobile, face down at the bottom.

Confused, I told my body to push me up again but it no longer responded to my requests. My heart hammered in my chest as confusion gave way to panic.

With my mouth firmly clamped shut, my eyes darted left and right as I searched for something to help me. My chest became tighter. I needed air. I hadn’t taken a big enough breath before diving in. Even though I only had the use of my eyes, I wanted desperately to fight for my life. If no one had seen me dive in, then only I could save myself, I thought.

The seconds ticked by.

Try again. You’ve got to try again.

I strained to push myself up, but all that happened was a precious air bubble escaped from my mouth. I began to feel light-headed and I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to think. S***.

And then, it wasn’t just me. Strong hands gripped my arm, pulling me up, turning me. My face broke free of the water and I gasped for air, over and over again.

I opened my eyes to see my dad, a retired GP, standing beside me in the pool. With him was my friend Dafydd, who held up my torso while Dad supported my head with one hand and checked me over with the other.

Still dazed from the impact, I reassured myself that after a couple of minutes the feeling would come back. Then we could all laugh about the time I made a clumsy dive into the shallow end of a pool. A welcome feeling of calm washed over me as together they floated me over to the side where my head came to rest in the hands of Diane, a family friend.

As another friend called for an ambulance, my elation at having been rescued from the bottom began to ebb away.

Staring down at my lifeless body bobbing in the water, I realised that I wouldn’t be hauling myself out, wobbling over to a sun lounger and laughing about my lack of diving prowess. This wasn’t going to turn out that way.

Dad had decided that I shouldn’t be lifted out until an ambulance came so I tried to distract myself by letting my eyes roam over the endless, blue sky.

There was no pain; in fact, I couldn’t really feel anything at all, just Diane’s hands cradling my head and the water lapping against my shoulders.

The minutes dragged as we all retained our positions, frozen to the spot. As I listened to Diane’s reassuring voice, I began to feel sleepy in the warm sunlight. Maybe I could just nod off for a few minutes? I would wake up when the ambulance arrived . . .

‘How about your left hand?’ Dad’s voice cut through my thoughts, keeping me present. ‘Can you move that?’

I tried. I really tried to move my left hand.

‘Anything?’ I asked but he didn’t answer.

‘What about your right hand?’

He still hadn’t answered my question. Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut — just for a moment — but I had caught the flash of panic in them. This was more than a bump to the head.

What should have been a 15-minute journey to the hospital in Bath took two and a half hours. My heart stopped beating three times. Technically I died and each time the ambulance had to pull over for me to be resuscitated by the on-board doctor.

At the time of the accident, Ed felt 'everything was slotting into place'. He was living in Cardiff with his fiancée Lois and he had just signed another two-year contract with his rugby team, the Dragons

At the time of the accident, Ed felt 'everything was slotting into place'. He was living in Cardiff with his fiancée Lois and he had just signed another two-year contract with his rugby team, the Dragons

At the time of the accident, Ed felt ‘everything was slotting into place’. He was living in Cardiff with his fiancée Lois and he had just signed another two-year contract with his rugby team, the Dragons

My life didn’t flash in front of me. I didn’t see a light or hear a guiding voice. Instead, I floated in and out of reality. I had been given a glimpse of how easy that final step can be. It’s just like going to sleep. You drift away, unaware that you might be closing your eyes for the final time.

At the hospital, voices circled around me, my dad’s among them. Everyone was talking about me, but no one was talking to me.

Lying there, my gaze fixed firmly upwards with two foam blocks on either side of my head allowing not even a millimetre of movement, I felt incredibly vulnerable. Finally, a flash of blonde hair came into view and Lois leant over me, trying to smile, her bright, brown eyes full of concern.

‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘I think the pool’s okay. I didn’t crack any of the tiles.’

She reached for my hand. I couldn’t feel her touch. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ she said, her smile not quite reaching her eyes. ‘I’ll send the pool a “Get Well Soon” card. I’m sure it’s just bruised.’

Seeing her made everything more real and silent tears streamed down my face. This was the woman who had chosen to spend her life with me. Was she now tied to a very different man?

She didn’t deserve this. She was young, athletic, full of irresistible energy and plans for our future together. And I couldn’t even fulfil the simple act of taking her hand in mine.

A cold shiver passed through me as the heavy fog of shock wore off, leaving me with the stark reality of my situation.

An MRI scan revealed that I had dislocated two vertebrae at the bottom of my neck. The disc between them had exploded and splintered shards of bone had almost severed my spinal cord, reducing its width from 12mm to 4mm. I was literally clinging on by a thread.

I needed emergency surgery and so I was transferred to Southmead Hospital in Bristol, which had a multi-million-pound intensive care ward that was the newest in the country.

I’d had six previous operations for rugby injuries, so I was familiar with the possible risks of a general anaesthetic. But the neurosurgeon Mr Neil Barua clearly meant it when he told me that I might not wake up again.

During the operation, he removed my shattered disc, relocated my vertebrae and fixed them in place with a metal plate.

When I came round the next day with multiple wires and tubes snaking out of my body, I couldn’t remember why I was there.

There was no feeling below my neck other than limited movement in my right arm. With no power in my chest and abdomen I couldn’t cough and every time fluid lodged in my throat I started choking. The panic of not being able to breathe again took me straight back to the pool. Straight back to drowning.

As I lay in my hospital bed, all I could do was stare up at the tiled ceiling. Even if I wanted to look away I couldn’t: my neck was braced and a heavy plate pressed down on my chest to prevent any movement of my spine. I was basically a head on a pillow.

I was only allowed two visitors at a time. Friends would walk in and their faces would betray them; the colour would drain. I couldn’t see myself, couldn’t see the tubes, so I used their reactions to try and monitor my situation.

It wasn’t good, as Mr Barua explained. Although I still had a bit of movement in my right arm, he said it was unlikely that I would ever walk again. The best I could hope for was regaining the use of my arms so I could use a wheelchair.

‘With this type of quadriplegia, that would be considered an excellent recovery,’ he said. ‘I really am very sorry.’

Mum and Lois burst into tears as he gave us this news and that night, alone in my room, I asked myself how this could have happened to me on 8 April of all days. So much for my lucky number . . .

‘It’s unlikely you’ll ever walk again. You need to come to terms with that.’ Mr Barua’s words kept circling around my mind. ‘B*****ks’ to that,’ I concluded. If there was still even a tiny chance of me regaining the use of my legs then I was going to take it.

From then on, the word ‘independence’ stalked me every hour of the day. I was terrified of being a burden on Lois or my mum for the rest of my life and the news that I was unlikely to walk again spurred me on.

Ed's heart stopped three times in the ambulance on the journey to the hospital. When he Lois leant over him, Ed said it made 'everything more real' and 'silent tears' stream down his face, wondering if she was 'now tied to a very different man'

Ed's heart stopped three times in the ambulance on the journey to the hospital. When he Lois leant over him, Ed said it made 'everything more real' and 'silent tears' stream down his face, wondering if she was 'now tied to a very different man'

Ed’s heart stopped three times in the ambulance on the journey to the hospital. When he Lois leant over him, Ed said it made ‘everything more real’ and ‘silent tears’ stream down his face, wondering if she was ‘now tied to a very different man’ 

All day long, as visitors trotted in and out, I would send signals to my body to move, hoping that one would reach its target.

If in six months’ time I hadn’t made any progress, I could cope with that if I knew I had given it everything.

But what I couldn’t live with was knowing that I’d only given it half a go — I wouldn’t be able to look either Lois or my mum in the eye.

So, I spent every second I could firing those signals and making jokes. By acting positively for other people, I was also starting to feel positive.

On my seventh afternoon in intensive care, Mum and Lois were chatting in my room but I was only half listening as I shot messages down my limbs, trying to get something to work.

I took a sharp breath as I felt my right index finger twitch. It was the smallest of movements and I thought I must have imagined it.

I was so tired from lack of proper sleep that sometimes my vision blurred and rippled at the edges. I did it again — it definitely twitched. ‘Mum, look at my finger. Look, look!’

I closed my eyes and sent the command.

The squeals from both my mum and Lois confirmed what I was hoping for.

‘Try your middle finger,’ Lois said and I stared in disbelief as both fingers wiggled at the same time, doing exactly what I told them to do.

If I’d been able to, I would have hopped off the bed and done a victory lap.

Lois and Mum leant in to hug me at the same time. I took a deep breath in. That morning, I had no working fingers and now I had two. The tears spilled down my cheeks as I broke out into a wide grin.

The doctors were just as pleased for me but this did not change their prognosis. In their view, it was still very unlikely that I would walk again — a finger was not a toe — but I told myself that staying positive was essential.

I had to concentrate on short-term goals rather than long-term outcomes, to be happy that I could wiggle my finger, not sad that my legs didn’t move. I’d still keep the faith that I would make further progress, but I wouldn’t beat myself up if it didn’t happen every day. All I could do was try.

Through rugby I knew a couple of people who’d had spinal injuries before my accident. One was Matt Hampson, a former England prop who, when he was 20, had a scrum collapse on him, dislocating his neck. He spent 18 months in hospital, was permanently paralysed from the neck down, and still needs a ventilator to breathe.

After he left hospital, he started the Matt Hampson Foundation, which has raised millions for young people severely injured through sport. His ethos is contained in one simple phrase: Get Busy Living — a mantra I was going to apply to my situation.

Using my voice to control an iPad which my younger brother Josh had fixed above my head, I also read how Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and given just two years to live at the age of 21.

For years he watched movement leave his body, knowing it would never return. At least I could watch some movement return to mine, knowing that there might be more to come and I’d been told that, if it was going to happen, it would be on the side that had it last.

In my case that was the right side and I spent every waking hour staring at my right big toe and telling it to move.

Never has a toe been watched so intensely and it was beginning to shrivel under my stern gaze.

I changed tactics and began talking to it. Words of encouragement, cajoling, bribery, a stream of abuse and even the occasional apology. Nothing worked.

On the 12th day in hospital, Lois was sitting next to me, talking about going back to Cardiff for the day to check on our house.

This unsettled me. It was as if life was starting to shift back to some semblance of normality for everyone, apart from me.

‘What time do you have to go?’ I asked, still firing those messages to my toe.

‘Probably around — Ed, did you just move your toe?’

‘What?’

I stared at her.

‘Do it again . . .’

Another message was shot down.

‘Oh!’ Lois said, standing up. ‘It moved. It definitely moved!’ Terrified that it might stop, I kept trying to wiggle my toe as Lois ran to get my mum.

All bets were off. Everything I had been told was now out of the window.

I’d sent a message to the furthest point from my brain. There was life in my legs . . . it may not have been much, but it was all the hope I needed and with sudden clarity, I realised that April 8 had been a lucky day.

I was lucky that people were there to pull me above the water, lucky that my dad is a doctor and knew to keep my spine straight, lucky that I was only ten miles from one of the leading neurological centres in the country, and lucky that I was operated on within seven hours of the injury.

I was lucky to be awake and talking, and lucky there was a chance that I would regain the movement in my arms.

Luck had got me this far, but I was still paralysed. My journey had only just begun. 

Adapted from Lucky: From Tragedy To Triumph One Step At A Time by Ed Jackson, published by HQ on August 5 at £20. © Ed Jackson 2021. To order a copy for £17.80 (offer valid to 8/8/21; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.

Link hienalouca.com

Advertising:

Tips to Find Low Priced Luxury Holiday Package Deals Fast

For most families, it has already been a common practice to spend the Holiday season in a foreign location. This is caused by the aviation market changes which have given a lot of benefits for people who travel a lot. Airfares going to different tourist destinations are becoming more inexpensive. What does this mean? If there is a perfect time to purchase luxury holiday package deals, now it the right time! Based on the market trend nowadays, you can save both money and time when you go for a luxury holiday. There are countless offers that combine travel and accommodation in one package which is a lot cheaper than getting separate deals. Aside from that, it is also risky to individually book the services that you need for the vacation. You might end up missing out on some important details of the trip. Unlike when you take advantage of luxury holiday package deals, you can be sure that everything is organized meticulously and according to what you really need. Nonetheless, you would still need to carefully select the package that would fit your needs. Review the following tips in getting packages that are reasonably priced. · Normally, luxury tour packages include accommodation, flight travel and transportation to individual tourist destinations. It would be best to choose the complete package so you won’t have to worry about other vacation elements. In addition to that, these are the packages that have the biggest discounts. · You can get big mark down prices, if you will purchase more packages. It is not a bad idea to share the wonderful moment with your loved ones. By doing so, you would not only enjoy, you will also save more money. You can even use your savings for other activities on your vacation. · It would be best to know how much you are willing to pay for the luxury tour packages. You can already work around your budget. You have to stick to your budget. If not, you might end up spending a lot and you will be left with less money for your vacation. · Prices may vary depending on the destination of the tour. You can do a research about places that are attractive yet inexpensive. There are thousands of destinations and you just have to choose wisely. · There are packages that include recreational activities. This means that you are paying for all the activities when you purchase these packages. The right thing to do is to make sure that the activities that are included would be the ones that you really enjoy. There is no sense in paying for activities that will not really make your vacation memorable. If you are going with friends, you should also consider their preferences so that you can be sure that everyone will enjoy the trip. There are other ways on how you can be sure that you are getting the best deal for your luxury holiday vacation. No matter how you choose to do it, you have to get adequate information about the packages. This will help you determine whether it is worth the price.

(Total views: 38 Time, 1 visits per day)

Leave a Reply