I FOUGHT FOR LIFE, NOW I’LL TAKE MY DAUGH­TER DOWN AISLE

Ex-rugby ace tells how hor­ror bike ac­ci­dent left him paral­ysed

Wales On Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - JAMES McCARTHY Re­porter james.mccarthy@waleson­line.co.uk To help visit: https://www.paulcur­t­is­fund.com

AS for­mer Har­lequins prop Paul Cur­tis lay fight­ing for his life he turned to his best pal and said: “If I don’t get through this, walk my daugh­ter down the aisle.”

The 20-stone sports­man had just bro­ken his neck hav­ing hur­tled down­hill on a moun­tain bike into a tree on the Aber­gavenny Cy­cling Trail. He knew he was in a bad way, but he didn’t know he was paral­ysed from the chest down.

“I came down through a fairly steep sec­tion and hit a tree square on,” the 57-year-old said. “I re­ally can’t re­mem­ber a lot about that but I re­mem­ber the next guy down stopped and started to phone the paramedics.

“I must have just passed out for a while at that point but the paramedics were there and my friends were there. They were try­ing to get me sta­ble and sorted.”

Dad-of-three Paul was raced to the Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal of Wales, Cardiff, by am­bu­lance.

At 6ft 2ins and weigh­ing 20 stone Paul – iron­i­cal­luy nick­named Titch – was too big for a he­li­copter.

“They had to call moun­tain res­cue or the fire bri­gade,” he said. “I ended up at the Heath in Cardiff.

“My wife had been in West Wales watch­ing our son play rugby.”

He had sur­vived count­less col­li­sions on the pitch. Now he had bro­ken his neck, dam­aged his spine, paral­ysed half his right di­aphragm and ru­ined half his right lung.

“My fam­ily arrived and they were told I had bro­ken my neck,” Paul said.

“My wife and son and friends, the guys I was cy­cling with were told I was paral­ysed from the chest down. It was Septem­ber 17 last year. Paul’s wife, Rhian, had told him at the start of the day: “En­joy your­self, but don’t come back in­jured.”

She said the “im­pact has been mas­sive for the whole fam­ily”.

For the next seven months he re­mained in UHW.

“As time went by it be­came clear I had lost the abil­ity to swal­low,” Paul said. “My right lung had be­come paral­ysed. I was re­garded as nil by mouth for six months and so I was fed through the nose.

“That is not some­thing I would rec­om­mend to any­one. I cel­e­brated last Christ­mas with sips of wa­ter that had been made thick and gloopy so they would not go into my lungs.

“From there I grad­u­ally got bet­ter and have started to be able to eat again and that sort of stuff.”

He added: “I had three or four months of ly­ing on my back look­ing at the ceil­ing. I lis­tened to an aw­ful lot of ra­dio.

“You don’t know what’s real and what’s not,” said Paul, who also played for Bog­nor RFC and Ross­lyn Park. “I would tell my wife I had done things and she would say you can’t do that, you’re hal­lu­ci­nat­ing.”

The doc­tors had told him he was paral­ysed but he had not un­der­stood the sever­ity of it.

“To me be­ing paral­ysed meant I had lost the func­tion in my arms and legs and cer­tain other parts,” he said.

“But I hadn’t thought about my stom­ach.”

But he is a force to be reck­oned with.

“I can’t mope about,” he said. “It’s done. I’ve got to move on and see where I go from here. For the most part I’m pretty up­beat. I’m fairly re­al­is­tic about where I am and where I’m go­ing. We all have our bad days. Then I sit qui­etly in bed and have a lit­tle sob. But that hap­pens and you move on to the next day.”

When he arrived at UHW he was not expected to live.

“But he only went into in­ten­sive care once be­cause he had such gen­eral good health,” his wife Rhian said.

“He was such a big strong man. That saw him through the worst days.

“They let me stay at the hos­pi­tal for six weeks,” said Rhian, 56. “I slept at the hos­pi­tal while the fam­ily were back home in Pen­clawdd, Gower.

“I would go home to get clean clothes and come straight back.

“I needed to be by Paul’s side. Paul was scared and I was scared.”

Af­ter six weeks the ward man­ager told Rhian it was time for her to go for “my own well-be­ing”.

She has just re­tired af­ter 34 years of teach­ing so she can be with Paul when he comes home.

The cou­ple are now get­ting ready for the wed­ding of their daugh­ter, Hannah.

“When Paul had the ac­ci­dent and was wait­ing for the am­bu­lance to ar­rive he turned to Tony McEvoy, his best friend, and said, ‘If I don’t make it, please give Hannah away,’” said Rhian.

“But now Paul will get to take Hannah down the aisle in some shape or form on Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 23. Paul only gets to give Hannah away once.”

The wed­ding will be at the Oxwich Bay Ho­tel, Gower.

“We only con­firmed the wed­ding at the end of May be­cause up un­til then Paul would only have been able to come out for four or five hours,” Rhian said.

Paul has now been given a dis­charge date next month.

“Ev­ery­thing was on hold, but now I can go and look for a dress,” Rhian said.

The fam­ily is try­ing to raise £100,000 to con­vert their home for Paul. On Satur­day, Septem­ber 9, rugby play­ers Will Car­ling, Mick Skinner, Peter Win­ter­bot­tom and Mike Teague will be tak­ing part in a fundrais­ing bike ride, cy­cling 70 miles from Bog­nor Rugby Club to the Har­lequins ground.

For­mer rugby player Paul Cur­tis at Rook­wood Hos­pi­tal, Cardif, dur­ing his re­cov­ery af­ter break­ing his back in a moun­tain bik­ing ac­ci­dent

Paul with Hannah and her fi­ancé, Liam, and his grand­chil­dren, Emer­son and Martha

Paul, right, goes head to head with a London Scottish prop in his play­ing days

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