A MOTORBIKE crash victim left paralysed from the waist down has told his incredible story to health chiefs in a bid to improve care for others.
Guisborough’s Sam Watson was riding back from a shift at Redcar Coastguard Team on July 29 last summer when he ploughed into the back of a Mercedes van at the top of Yearby Bank.
The 22-year-old broke his back, neck and pelvis while suffering a raft of other injuries – leading to a six month stay in hospital.
But the father-of-one has now come out the other side of his ordeal and told leaders at James Cook University Hospital about the care he’d received at a meeting this week.
Sam’s life changed in the blink of an eye near Cleveland Land Services.
Mr Watson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he had hazy broken memories of the crash – but could recall the moment just before the impact.
Sam said: “I was thinking of something along the lines of “this isn’t going well” only worded differently.
“I knew as soon I woke up in ITU (intensive care) eight days later that I was paralysed.
“I didn’t know it was permanent at that point – all the signs pointed to it but we were still quite hopeful.”
The police believed Sam managed to slow down to 20mph before impact.
And despite his devastating injuries, he revealed how luck was on his side that day.
“I was very lucky because the lady behind me in her car was an ex-critical care nurse who immediately jumped out to help,” said Sam.
“She didn’t listen to me when I was telling her to take my helmet off – luckily she didn’t because it would have been so much worse.”
Familiar faces from Redcar fire crew were also heading back from Guisborough at the time of his collision.
“They were 30 seconds away – I knew them all because the coastguard is based in the same room,” added Sam.
“There was somebody looking out for me that day.
“I just got incredibly lucky. I shouldn’t be here by all accounts – I had a cardiac arrest a few days later in ITU.
“It’s one of those things which happens – it could happen to anyone.
“You never think it’ll happen to you but when it does, you have options.
“You can let it beat you and let it ruin your life, or you can learn to live with your new life, accept what you’ve got and be grateful for what you have.”
Sam is now paralysed from the waist down but still has the use of his arms and gets about in a wheelchair.
He, and his fiancée Sarah, told South Tees trust leaders about his seven month stay in hospital and how staff had, on the whole, helped his recovery.
“I’ve a little girl at home who’s been a huge driving force to carry on with life as best I can and I’m back in work now,” said Mr Watson.
The proud Yorkshireman has already packed a lot into his 22 years.
Before the accident, he worked at James Cook on the neurosurgery ward as an apprentice before working as an ambulance technician for the British Red Cross contracted to the North East Ambulance Service.
He’s also had a spell working in the Co-op and at Saltburn cliff lift.
Sam told the board seeing the hospital from the other side was an “eye-opener” – hailing staff for their incredible efforts.
He said: “I’ve had so many positive experiences and couldn’t say a single bad word about any of the rehab team, the physios and OTs (occupational therapists) – anybody who looked after me.
“There are very few few people who put a bit of a negative spin on my stay and experience but, thankfully, I have got better.
“I’m in the bracket of I’m never going to recover – there’s always a chance but it’s not going to happen.
“This is my life now and to get me to this point I’ve had a lot of help.
“I’ll be eternally grateful for that as I wouldn’t be able to come here today if it wasn’t for the work people in the hospital had done.”
Mr Watson spent eight days in a medically induced coma after his accident before eventually moving onto a spinal injuries unit and onto a ward for rehab.
He was discharged in February and has been working with his family to get his life back together since.
Asked what the hospital could do better, Sam told the board how having bins which weren’t pedal operated could help those in wheelchairs.
And staff being more aware of long term patients was also flagged up.
Mr Watson said: “Staff can see you as part of the furniture when you’ve been there as long as four or five months.
“You start to become less of a patient and more of a job.
“That’s the biggest thing that I’ve found extremely difficult to deal with.
“By the end of my stay I found that if I was to ask for something I would wait -but someone who’d been there five minutes would have it straight away.
“That isn’t necessarily anyone’s conscious choice, or a conscious biased decision they are making.
“It’s just one of those things which seems to happen.
“Having a bigger awareness of that – especially for staff who work on long stay wards – would make a really positive difference.”
But he also heaped praise on the hospital’s award-winning therapeutic care team and it’s band of volunteers.
Mr Watson said: “Having people on hand who’ve had similar experiences to yourself who want to be there to help you through as unpaid staff is an incredible thing, and a huge testament to how brilliant this place really is.”
After the meeting, Sam told the Local Democracy Reporting Service how he was loving his new job and now “getting back into the world of work”.
He asked Sarah to marry his last Christmas during his stay in hospital and both have a four-year-old daughter Amelia Grace.
He said he was still in touch with his former coastguard colleagues who’d “looked after him big-style” since his accident.
And confirmed he was volunteering himself with the hosptial’s therapeutic care team.
“I genuinely can say I wouldn’t be alive today if I didn’t have the people around me that I do,” he added.
“When you’ve been to hospital it’s like a driving test.
“They get you to the point where you can live on your own and survive.
“When you go out on your own you learn how to drive and when you come out of hospital, you learn how to live.
“When I was in hospital, Sarah got our new house set up, she decorated, made adjustments and got everything sorted for me.
“She’s been absolutely incredible.
“My mam and step-dad have been great – they’ve built a gym for me in their garage to help build my strength back up.
“My dad has looked after us and taken us out for meals when we’ve been allowed – the general support has been fantastic.”
To read more about Sam’s life and times, his blog can be found at: https://wheelchairsam.com/