Let’s help Paul in his great­est bat­tle

PAUL ACKFORD played along­side Paul Cur­tis in the Har­lequins side that won the 1988 John Player Cup fi­nal. Here the Eng­land lock tells why his for­mer team­mate needs help from his rugby friends

The Rugby Paper - - News | Feature -

ON Satur­day 17 Septem­ber 2016, Paul Cur­tis, 58, went out moun­tain-bik­ing with some mates. It was some­thing he had done reg­u­larly. A long and dis­tin­guished am­a­teur ca­reer as a prop with Bog­nor RFC, Ross­lyn Park and Har­lequins hadn’t dulled his ap­petite for ex­er­cise. Get­ting out on his moun­tain bike was a good way to keep fit and have some fun. “Have a good day,” Rhian, his wife, said. “Don’t come back in­jured.”

Hours later Rhian re­ceived a mes­sage on her mo­bile, ask­ing her to come to the Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal of Wales on the out­skirts of Cardiff. On ar­rival she was taken into a side room. “Are you aware of your hus­band's in­juries?” a doc­tor asked. “Well, I know he’s hit a tree,” Rhian an­swered, think­ing he might have frac­tured a leg or a col­lar bone. “It’s worse than that. He’s paral­ysed.”

Paul had suf­fered cat­a­strophic, life-chang­ing in­juries. He had bro­ken his neck, dam­aged his spinal chord, paral­ysed half of his right di­aphragm and wrecked half of his right lung.

“I didn’t faint,” Rhian said, “be­cause I was sit­ting down at the time, but our world came tum­bling down around us.”

In March 2017, Paul was trans­ferred to Rook­wood, the spinal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion unit in Cardiff. It had taken six months of in­ten­sive care to get him to the po­si­tion where he was well enough to dis­cover what his fu­ture looked like.

It was pretty bleak. Paul is paral­ysed from the chest down. He has no use of his legs. He can feed him­self and shave, and his hands, claw-like fol­low­ing his crash, are now just about able to hold a pen as some of his fine mo­tor skills re­turn. But he is un­likely ever to re­gain the strength in his shoul­ders and arms which will en­able him to lift him­self in and out of a wheel­chair and in and out of bed.

Re­cently Paul was told of a pro­vi­sional re­lease date in Septem­ber for a re­turn home. Yet Paul can’t go home be­cause his house is not equipped for him. The door­ways are not wide enough for his wheel­chair and the bath­room is up some stairs. Rhian has con­tacted an ar­chi­tect who has ad­vised that an ex­ten­sion to meet Paul’s needs will cost about £100,000. The fam­ily haven’t got that kind of money.

Paul played in the am­a­teur days, some­times go­ing about his trade as a plumber on the morn­ing of big matches. If the chang­ing room smelled a bit whiffy be­fore the game, it was of­ten be­cause Paul had been out un­block­ing some drains.

Build­ing an ex­ten­sion is only half the bat­tle. Paul needs an ad­di­tional £50,000 for the care and the spe­cialised equip­ment to al­low him to live at home. Stuff like spe­cial sur­gi­cal boots to stop his feet fall­ing out­wards and over­ro­tat­ing his hips which will cause prob­lems later on. Paul was a prop in the days when loose-heads were big, big men. In the UK they only make med­i­cal boots up to a size 12. Paul is a size 14. Rhian is try­ing Amer­i­can web­sites to see if there is a so­lu­tion there.

The Na­tional Health Ser­vice has been fan­tas­tic, but there is only so much they can do. “I’ve­been told that they will pro­vide a bed if Paul comes home,” Rhian said. “But it’s a bed just for Paul. I don’t want to be sleep­ing apart for the rest of our lives. A bed for both of us will cost around £12,000.”

Then there’s the hoist to get Paul in and out of bed and the shower, and the spe­cialised wheels on his wheel­chair which might al­low Paul to take his grand-chil­dren to the beach as he did on Sun­days be­fore the ac­ci­dent. A physio ta­ble is £4,000, those wheel­chair wheels £5,000. Ev­ery­thing is ex­pen­sive. The equip­ment, the care he will need ev­ery morn­ing and night for the rest of his life. Ev­ery­thing.

If there has been an up­side to what has been a wretched few months, it has been the gen­eros­ity and hu­man­ity of the rugby com­mu­nity and the cou­ple’s friends. Old rugby mates, some of whom Paul hadn’t seen for the best part of 30 years, have vis­ited to see what they can do.

The school where Rhian teaches had a curry evening to raise funds for their sixth form prom. Half of the £330 gen­er­ated on the night was promised to Paul. “His ‘fine. He can still re­mem­ber ev­ery bloody rugby story,”" Rhian said.

Paul’s spirit is still very much in­tact. “He wants to put some­thing back,” Rhian said, “to meet sim­i­larly in­jured peo­ple to tell them, yes, it is black at times, but you can get through those dark days.”

A fi­nal snap­shot of what Paul is like. Part of his re­hab in­volves work­ing out on a hand bike to build strength in his arms and shoul­ders, and Paul is de­ter­mined to shave sec­onds off his per­sonal best for 5,000 me­tres – to com­pete with oth­ers in the ward who have suf­fered sim­i­larly ap­palling in­juries.

“I’ve told him he’s crazy,” Rhian said. “I told him he was up against blokes half his age, that he only had one and a half lungs and it was a bloody bike which got him there in the first place. D’you know what he said?’ And?’” Do­na­tions can be made via https://www.just­giv­ing.com/crowd­fund­ing/PaulCur­tis59

“Paul had bro­ken his neck, dam­aged his spinal chord and paral­ysed half of his di­aphragm”

Hap­pier times: Paul Cur­tis on a trip to Aus­tralia

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