Frank’s Background Story
My whole life was driven by sport, mainly encouraged by my Granddad, and I played both football and Ice-hockey at an early age, the latter for a living. A severe knee injury forced me to hang my boots up but I continued being involved in sport only this time I took on the role of a goalkeeping coach in football, working with all age groups in both Milton Keynes and Bedford. An innocuous dive for a ball during a coaching session on the 27th September 2008 was to change my life drastically. I landed awkwardly on my arm and the elbow dug into my lower abdomen. A few hours later I was rushed into A&E and despite breaking bones and tearing ligaments during my career this was at a level I had never truly experienced before.
Roughly a year and half later I was referred to Addenbrookes hospital pain management team, and they diagnosed I had torn a stomach muscle, for the second time in my life, but had also damaged nerve endings and I was now suffering from Chronic Pain Syndrome and due to the damage done to my nerve endings, I would probably suffer from that for the rest of my life. To go from being so physically active to not being able to move without causing any pain was very hard to accept and then having to endure things such as having to be pushed around in a wheelchair where I had become so weak was tough and mentally I have constantly struggled to come to terms with it. Thankfully my partner Lucy has helped me to learn to deal with these emotions and in 2010 she encouraged me to enrol on an Access Course at Bedford College with a view to going to University and begin training as a Primary School Teacher. For someone who had left school with no qualifications to speak of, and to go to college was really scary but I enjoyed my time there, and I even wrote an article for the college paper about being a mature student struggling with a disability. I passed the course with merits and distinctions and gained a triple distinction for my final dissertation. I was speechless at how well things had gone and I was even more amazed when the University of Bedfordshire accepted me onto their Early Years Education, 3 year BA Hons degree. Whilst at Uni I knew the typical student nightlife was never going to be an option however I wanted to get involved as much as I could and so I became a Course Rep, a PAL leader during my 2nd and 3rd years, which involved helping first year students negotiate their first two terms on campus, and I also volunteered as a Student Ambassador, which involved helping out on Open Days showing prospective students around the campus and giving talks both on campus and in local colleges and schools about my experiences of being a student as well. This all helped me to gain confidence in myself and I found myself being asked to become a mentor to disabled students who were finding it difficult to adjust to university life. As I had done at college, I also found myself writing an article for the university magazine about how I’d gone from playing hockey to being a student wanting to work with children. My health continued to make things difficult but the university were superb and with an added year I eventually graduated in the July of 2015. Despite the issues I had endured, I enrolled onto the PGCE course to gain my teachers qualification. My health unfortunately took a turn for the worse, and I began to have constant tingling in my left arm and I had started to pass out with an alarming frequency.
Eventually I had to accept things were not getting better and I withdrew from the course on the 17th November which was one of the lowest points in my life. In January 2016 I applied for a job at the university working with the Dean of Student Experience and was offered the job on a 6 month contract. The role meant talking to students and finding out what issues they had experienced as well as contacting other universities to see what things they were initiating to get students involved more. During my time in this role I was instrumental in the starting of a student society called PAMMS, which was for parents and mature students, a student group I felt were regularly missed during student life and events. I was still passing out regularly and in late May 2016 that problem eventually caught up with me. I was in the garden playing with my dogs when I passed out, and upon coming round I was surrounded by broken wood and a concerned dog licking my face, it became clear I had gone through a small garden table and had badly bruised my left arm. A trip to A&E showed I hadn’t broken any bones but my arm was still extremely sore and had swollen quite alarmingly. The arm continued to swell and a few days later the whole forearm was black with bruising and was so painful I couldn’t bear anything touching my arm, leading to another trip up to A&E. A succession of specialists and nurses took it in turns to look at my arm and I was eventually taken to a ward before having surgery to repair the Compartment Syndrome which I was now suffering from. A CT and an MRI scan back in February of 2016 had already shown I had issues with 5 discs in my neck and that these were pressing on my spinal cord. In the August 2016 after seeing the neurology department at Cambridge hospital I had an ACDF to repair my C4/5 discs, however the surgeon stated I would need further surgery to repair the other levels. Another knock to my left hand caused my arm to swell again, and another trip to A&E led to me being rushed to surgery in late November 2016 to repair a second Compartment Syndrome, this time on the inner half of my left arm. I have been left with two 7* inch long scars on my left arm, and I was still continuing to pass out on a regular basis, and a further MRI scan in March of 2017 showed the discs in the neck had got worse and I needed major surgery to repair things. Lucy and I got married in late July and enjoyed a superb Honeymoon in Wales later on in September. My surgery was scheduled for 11th December and unfortunately was postponed three times, however, I reported to Addenbrookes on the 24th January 2018 for surgery the day after.
My surgery was to be a posterior fusion from C2-T1 with a laminectomy of C3/4/5. Due to the issues with the arm I had been diagnosed with an Acquired Severe Bleeding Disorder and thus needed platelets and other blood cultures to try to ensure there were no complications during the surgery. Trust me to make it a problem as an issue with controlling the bleeding along with the intricate metal work being inserted into my neck meant I was in theatre for just over 8 hours before being taken to critical care to begin the recovery.
I woke up and to be honest for the first 36 hours I felt pretty good, I think the copious amounts of Ketamine and morphine being pumped into my body may have had something to do with it. Lucy came to visit the day after surgery and couldn’t believe how coherent I was and in how little pain I appeared to be, this would definitely not be the case the day after, once I had been transferred to a Neuro ward and the Ketamine had worn off. I felt like I had been hit by a train and any movement sent fresh waves down my neck and back, and I couldn’t believe how uncomfortable the neck brace was either, even a morphine pump struggled to keep up with the need for pain relief as my body tried to cope with what had just happened. Over the next two weeks I gradually recovered and was allowed home, with the knowledge I had to keep the brace on for 24 hours a day and I would be seen in around 3 months time. The recovery process at home was hampered by an issue with sciatica which prevented me from laying in a reclined position in my bed forcing me to spend the first three months after the surgery sleeping on my sofa. This was really difficult to cope with but Lucy kept me going and I made sure the sympathy mode was kept up with wine gums and jelly babies being to the fore of my food intake. Lucy was able to take me out for a coffee on the odd occasion and my pain levels slowly reduced although even now 6 months down the line I am still having issues with the pain in the surgery site as the muscles begin to knit back together. My Chronic Pain has obviously not helped and has at times left me reaching for the oramorph as the pain relief I am already on had not controlled things. I have good and bad days and occasionally I have a very bad day which leaves me barely able to move. On a plus side I am no longer passing out 3-4 times a day, which when you think about it, I have been passing out for nearly 18 months, so at a best guess, I’ve zonked out over a 1,000 times.
I am now well on the road to recovery and despite still having issues with my shoulders and trying to get used to having a limited range of movement in my neck, having the surgery was worth it and indeed was necessary. My surgery was for prevention rather than cure and I know that whilst I wont ever score the winning goal in a Stanley Cup Final, I’m now looking forward to the future with confidence and this role is the perfect opportunity for me to continue with my recovery and make the most of the superb work done by my surgeon Dr Mark Kotter. It was Mark that explained myelopathy to me before I had my surgery and told me about the Facebook support group which I subsequently joined and that has been such a great support to myself and my wife. It has also helped me understand my condition more with the information available and accounts from others who suffer this tough condition. When the group got the great news it was becoming a charity I really felt I wanted to be involved and to help spread he awareness of this condition and to raise funds. After speaking to the team I have been given the great opportunity to become the charity Ambassador for Myelopathy.org and hope that I can help to spread the word and begin to help people to understand the condition and thus give support to both sufferers and their loved ones.