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Jan 19th, 2023

Richard’s Story – Physio at Southampton Neuro ICU

For a few weeks in July 2020, I had a sore back, being in lockdown and having overdone it on golf and cycling I didn’t think much of it. I visited physios and Chiropractor, but everyone agreed it was just being nearly 50 and over doing it. Gin and Tonics with some rest was the answer – an answer I happily accepted.

However, on the evening of 14th July 2020 I woke up in the night in so much pain and eventually lost control of my legs and arms. The Paramedics were calm, assuming I had a trapped nerve, and I was taken to Winchester A&E for an MRI which took hours to complete due to the level of pain. Eventually the results were sent to UHS Spinal team, and they quickly saw that I had a massive infection compressing my spine and a dangerous abscess on the C1 vertebrae (top of the spine). I was blue lighted to Southampton where they were prepping to operate immediately – whilst they waited, they phoned my partner Sarah and explained there were only two outcomes of the operation – as my spine had already suffered a life changing stroke – I would be quadriplegic or wouldn’t survive the operation.

After a ten-hour operation on my spine – the worse news was provided to me when I came round – I was paralysed from the neck down.

I was ventilated for 29 days in Neuro ICU (NICU) and under the care of the exceptional Dr John Hell and the wonderful Nicki Seal – Lead Physio.

I was eventually weaned off all the life-saving machines and drugs over the 33 days in NICU and during this time Nicki provided daily physio and motivation to keep me positive and my muscles moving and avoid contractions and inevitable muscle atrophy. Being unable to move or speak is torturous and I truly believe I would have lost my sanity without Nicki’s daily visits and care.

Amazingly she managed to get my hands working to a basic level and even a few toes wiggled during this time, but she clearly explained that my prognosis was not good but always gave me hope.  My partner kept a daily journal based on the hour visit she was allowed per day (restricted due to COVID), and we have since read back through the journal and I can see that I made improvements nearly every day and these were all due to the amazing care and physio attention I had every single day whilst in NICU.  The nursing staff, doctors and Physio team were outstanding – every day they supported me to improve. Nicki set goals to help me focus and stay positive – she would stay to speak to my partner Sarah to give her updates and keep her spirits up to. COVID made everything very restrictive, but Nicki ensured that Sarah was part of my journey and understood every day what was happening and the next steps.

After 33 days in NICU I was eventually well enough to be transferred to a spinal ward (F4) where Nicki kept in touch with me whilst I waited to transfer to Salisbury Duke of Cornwall Spinal unit.  My story about Wessex NICU ends there and I wanted to make it clear that this story is not about me, it is about Wessex NICU and the unsung heroes at the beginning of people’s spinal cord injury journeys. My physio experience post-UHS was not positive but having poor physio experience made me realise even more how exceptional NICU were!  I am now thankfully home and onto the next part of my journey receiving exceptional home physio from superb private physios – they are building on the successes and ethos of Nicki Seal – my Guardian Angel.

So PLEASE help and support Wessex NICU as much as you possibly can – I am here now, to tell my tale, but without the skills of Wessex NICU I wouldn’t be. I am under absolutely no illusion that if it wasn’t for the University Hospitals Southampton and Nicki in particular, I would be unable to tell you my story.

Richard Burdett, Meon Valley, Hampshire