HAVING suffered a life-threatening brain injury when the victim of a violent, unprovoked city centre attack, Paul Spence was left facing a battle to survive.
A brain haemorrhage, caused when he fell backwards and hit his head on a ceramic floor, left his life hanging in the balance. He spent five days in and out of consciousness and repeatedly suffered seizures on a high dependency ward in hospital. Doctors said he was lucky to be alive, but because he was a fighter, the fight for survival was one he won.
Just a month later, Paul returned home to his loved ones. His life though, was far from returning to normal, and it was only then that he, and those close to him, started to realise that a much bigger battle had only just begun.
“Nothing could prepare me or my family for the battle of brain recovery,” said Paul, now 35. “I was home, but it was a real struggle and I had to be cared for by family and friends. I faced a two to year road to recovery, but was told I would never be the same again.
“There would be lasting brain damage, but to what extent they didn’t know. That was hugely difficult accept or understand, and part of my identity was lost that day. I didn’t know who I was, or who I would be.
“I have thankfully come a long way since, but it’s a long, hard road to walk. Every aspect of your life is blown to pieces. The best way to describe it is to imagine a jigsaw puzzle that is your life, then imagine it all going up into the air and you having to rebuild it. That’s what it has been like for me, and that’s why I am working hard to support others who find their lives blown apart.”
Three years after his injury, Paul is now fighting fit and proving an inspiration to others who find themselves in similar situations having suffered brain injuries. He has recently established his own charity, Paul – My Brain Recovery – and has already helped many not only in the UK, but internationally, by charting a timeline of his recovery, and the difficulties he and his family faced, on the site.
It comes on the back of a number of fundraising efforts which have helped him raise £30,000 for the Neurology Ward at Hull Royal Infirmary.
Paul’s long term goal, however, is to open a walk-in centre for people with brain injuries in his home city of Hull, somewhere which will provide support he felt was badly lacking.
And it is this goal which is providing the motivation behind his latest and biggest fundraising challenge yet, coinciding with the national Action for Brain Injury Week from May 18-23.
Running four marathons over four consecutive days, Paul will complete a lap of the coastline of Ibiza, and is hoping it will be an achievement to give other brain injury sufferers belief and confidence that better times can be ahead.
“I want people who find themselves in a similar situation to me to be able to look at what I have done and where I am now and feel there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can get better, but you have to stay positive.” he said. Paul admits there was a time when he could have given up hope of life returning to any kind of normality, and says it was the positivity of running and fitness which pulled him through.
“I can remember four or five months after my injury sitting at home in a daze and thinking that I had to do something positive,” he said.
“I knew I was stuck in a bit of a hole and I had to do something, so I did three squats, three press-ups and three sit-ups. I can remember it feeling good, and I felt happy that I’d had the thought process to do it. It was a big step forward, and I did that every day for the next few weeks. It was a positive moment for me.”
From that point, Paul placed his focus on fitness and healthy living. He joined a local gym, and with the help of a personal trainer, gradually worked his fitness up.
He started off running around the block near his home, before running an extra mile each week over a 26 week period from last October to complete his first full marathon on Easter Sunday, three years after the attack on him which he admits ‘shattered’ his life.
“Running and fitness saved my life, I am sure of it,” he said.
Now, to mark Action for Brain Injury Week, Paul has chosen to run the coastline run of Ibiza as he visited the island during his recovery, choosing to run on the beach whilst his friends enjoyed a night out on the town. He is being supported by a number of local businesses, including personal injury specialists Neil Hudgell Solicitors, who have covered the cost of his support vehicle.
Paul has agreed to offer his support to the firm’s future clients who find themselves needing to overcome the same challenges he did to return their lives to as close to normality as possible after suffering brain injuries.
Managing director Neil Hudgell said: “We are delighted to be supporting Paul for his Ibiza challenge. Paul is determined to be an inspiration to others who suffer brain injuries and to be a great example of how you can come through those difficult days to a better life.
“We will be working closely with Paul moving forward to offer extra support to our clients who have suffered brain injuries. Paul knows first-hand the difficulties they will face, both physically and emotionally, and understands the impact such injuries have not only on the individual, but those close to them.”
Paul added: “Without a shadow of a doubt this will be my biggest challenge to date and I am so grateful to have such great support.
“I am going to be running in heat of around 27 to 28 degrees, and doing back to back marathons is going to be tough, so I will be needing my support team, of that there is no doubt. I’ve been training well though, and have been doing two or three marathons a week recently to get ready,” he said.
“This challenge is all about proving to people at the start of that road to recovery that it is possible, and hopefully raising more money towards my goal of opening a facility which can truly make a big difference to many peoples’ lives. “Along the way I have learnt lessons which I feel could be valuable to others. I want to share my experience.”
To learn more about Paul’s charity work and brain injury support, visit his website at www.paulmybrainrecovery.co.uk