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Paralympic athletes are "a true inspiration for seriously injured people"
“The thousands of people who sustain a serious or catastrophic injury in the UK each year can take true inspiration from the success of the London 2012 Paralympics,” said Jonathan Fogerty.
A specialist serious injury lawyer who himself was spinally injured as a teenager, Jonathan has hailed the magnificent performance of Team GB's Paralympic athletes and said that the popularity and success of the Games had emphasised and underlined the fact that a serious injury was something that could be overcome.
“London 2012 was widely perceived as one of the greatest Olympic Games of all time, if not the greatest,” he said, “so it is only fitting that the Paralympics has also surpassed all public expectation. The origins of the Paralympics lie in rehabilitating individuals who had sustained a serious, life-changing injury, and I can’t think of a more inspiring demonstration that injuries are not ‘the end of the line’ than what we are currently witnessing with the achievements of the athletes this past week.”
An associate with Fentons Solicitors LLP, Jonathan was recently re-elected Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Spinal Injuries Association, (SIA) the national organisation in the UK supporting people living with and affected by spinal cord injury. Jonathan is a tetraplegic following an accident in 1988 when, aged 14, he dived into the shallow end of a swimming pool, striking his head on the bottom.
A first brush with the spirit of the Games
“The impact broke my neck at C5/6 and I was instantly rendered paralysed and a wheelchair user,” he said. “I was treated and rehabilitated at the Regional Spinal Injuries Centre in Southport. It was here that I had my first brush with the spirit of the Paralympics.”
Jonathan explained that each year newly injured patients from the 11 Spinal Injuries Centres in the UK – eight in England and one each in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – come together for the Inter-Spinal Unit Games at the National Spinal Injury Centre, Stoke Mandeville. The event takes its inspiration from the Stoke Mandeville Games, the sporting competition organised by Dr Ludwig Guttman to coincide with the opening of the 1948 Olympic Games and which evolved into the Paralympics as we know them today.
“During my rehabilitation, I took part as a member of the team from Southport Spinal Injury Centre,” said Jonathan. “I remember playing table tennis against another young man who was also tetraplegic. We had very similar injuries and although we both still had the use of our arms we had reduced strength and dexterity in our hands. We both had to have the bats strapped into our hands for grip and I soon realised that being right-handed, a backhand stroke to my opponent’s forehand was virtually unplayable.
“Unfortunately, my opponent quickly realised the same thing and so the game deteriorated into an exploitation of the other’s weakness. As the score approached 45 – 45, we decided to call it a draw for everyone’s sake. Who won was unimportant though. The role the competition played in my rehabilitation gave a feeling of normality, and that was the important thing that day.”
After leaving hospital, Jonathan declined to repeat the year he had missed whilst a patient in order to remain in the same classes as his friends - many of whom had been of great support to him after his injury. He successfully completed his schooling and then his university studies, before pursuing his chosen career in law. Jonathan qualified as a solicitor in September 1999.
His long association with the SIA includes being an elected trustee for twelve years, during which time he has been Chair of the Building Committee, overseeing the building and design of the universally accessible SIA House, the charity’s headquarters. He was also the SIA Training Officer from 2007 until 2009, delivering training courses on spinal cord injury and educating professionals working in the field.
Highlighting services and charitable organisations
In his current role as Chair of the Board of SIA Trustees, Jonathan attended the Paralympic Games Torch lighting ceremony at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, meeting Lord Sebastian Coe, on 28 August. “It was quite incredible,” he said. “A flame had travelled a route from each of the four home countries, and all four were then combined to produce a single flame. This flame then lit the torch which was carried through the night to London where it lit the Olympic cauldron in the stadium at the opening ceremony.”
Jonathan said he hoped the success of the Games would now be used as a springboard to highlight the already amazing services available to the thousands who are newly injured each year through accident or illness, and the need to continue to develop and in particular fund the continuation of those services.
“There is a massive demand on the specialist spinal injury centres, such as the one in Southport where I received my own treatment and rehabilitation,” said Jonathan. “There are approximately 450 beds available across the 11 UK centres, but with around twice that number sustaining spinal cord injuries each year, there is clearly a greater demand than can be currently met.”
Jonathan said he hoped that the Paralympics would help to raise awareness of the work carried out not just by the SIA but also the many other charitable organisations that work closely with seriously and catastrophically injured people to help them rehabilitate and adapt.
“The wider benefits of the success of these Paralympics are two-fold,” he said. “On the one hand, it has helped to shine a light on the amazing work done in improving medical treatment and rehabilitation programmes throughout the country and across the world. We have seen advances in technology in the past few years that have enabled individuals to recover from and adapt to their injuries better than ever before, and the success of the Games can only help in continuing to raise awareness and much-needed financial support for the various groups that continually strive to improve the support available.
“Moreover, the individual and collective success of the athletes act as a true inspiration for seriously injured people around the globe,” he said. “They have helped to dispel the myth that a life-changing injury has to be life-ending.
“The Games have shown that people can adapt and overcome anything. I’m not for a moment suggesting that everyone who sustains a spinal cord injury or undergoes an amputation should aspire to compete in a Paralympic event,” he said, “but those athletes are proof that with determination, focus and in many cases sheer strength of will, living with a serious injury can still result in a long and richly fulfilling life.”
Jonathan Fogerty is an associate with Fentons Solicitors LLP and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Spinal Injuries Association. He lives in his home city of Manchester with his wife Charo.
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