Fly fishing in a fully wheelchair accessible boat, at Hanningfield reservoir in Chelmsford, Essex (Image: Daniel Wilson)

Article by Lottie O'Neill: A man lost the mobility in his legs after falling down an escalator on a night out with his friends.

At first, Daniel Wilson didn't think anything was wrong as he got up and walked home, but the fall had actually triggered an underlying condition.

It wasn't until months later - when he began to experience severe pain - that his doctor urgently called him after a routine MRI scan.

Daniel was enjoying a night out with friends in London when the accident happened, back in 2011.

"I was messing around," explained the 33-year-old.

"I fell down the escalator but my back didn't break or anything. I even got up and walked home."

The call that changed everything

Daniel began to experience pain in his back over the next few months and decided to see his GP.

"I told her it was getting really bad and I was sent to have a MRI scan to see what was going on," added Daniel.

"I was at work and received a call from my GP at half eight in the morning. She said, 'uou need to leave the office and go straight back to hospital immediately'. It was scary, no doctor rings that early, I knew they found something and that something was wrong. She couldn't explain it to me on the phone, so I went to Queen's Hospital in Romford and was given the results."

Daniel, who is from Billericay, left his workplace, where he was an office manager at an estate agency to get to the hospital. He was told that he had an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which would have been present at birth but was never before picked up. Daniel added:

"The fall crushed the area and caused an issue, I had this as an underlying condition but AVM had never caused a problem in my life before I fell."

What is an arteriovenous malformation?

Arteriovenous malformations (AVM) is a term used to describe a tangle of blood vessels with abnormal connections between arteries and veins.

There are high pressure arteries containing fast flowing blood directly connected to low pressure veins, which tend to only contain slow flowing blood. This means that blood from the arteries flows directly into the veins without stopping to supply oxygen and nutrition, leading to fragile or painful tissues over time.

This also means the AVM gets larger over time because of the amount of blood flowing through it increasing, as well as the heart having to work harder to keep up with the extra blood flow.

Another way to understand as explained by Great Ormond Street Hospital, is a ring road that bypasses the high street of a town. Traffic (or blood) will use the bypass rather than the high street which suffers as a result.

His condition worsened over a period of time until his right leg deteriorated.

"After three months or so, my right foot went numb. The numbness then spread up to my knee and after about a year my whole leg was numb and I began to lose dexterity," he said, "I could still lift it but it was a struggle."

To help with the pressure near his spinal cord, where the AVM was, he had four key hole surgeries and had open back surgery. The aim of the surgery was to stop the blood flow permanently in that area and relieve the pressure.

Daniel has also had eight vertebrae removed throughout the operations, as well as seven angiograms - tests to take pictures of blood vessels.

Doctors wanted another open back surgery to try to complete the operation, to stop the blood flow, so Daniel went under the knife again. By this point, he had been using a walking stick for two years.

He had been having treatment for five years in total and but in October 2015 his life changed yet again. He said:

"The operation was finally done, it had all finished but there was a problem at the end, the femoral artery was cut and I began bleeding. They had to abort the operation. Blood was entering the spinal cord but because the operation was a success, the blood had nowhere to go. I was then rushed in for an emergency operation."

The artery clotted in his spine causing total paralysis from his right rib cage down to his left hip.

After he woke up, Daniel was told the news that he would need to use a wheelchair. But, he says, he actually felt relieved.

"Walking before was so difficult but it wasn't with the chair," he said.

Daniel trying robotic legs in clinical trials for the "REX project" at Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore, in the spinal rehab unit. (Image: Daniel Wilson)

"I had spent three years worrying about falling over or when the time would come when I wouldn't be able to walk around. When I sat in the chair I thought, 'it's really comfortable, it's not going to be bad after all'. With the surgery ending the way it did, it gave me a bit of relief as I knew how bad it was getting and it was deteriorating really fast. The treatment was never going to cure the AVM, but I was really pleased I did have that extra operation as I'd spend my life wondering if I should had done it. I don't regret it, or having any of them done. I didn't want to give it a few years and think if it would be possible to be walking now. When I was first diagnosed you can only slow it down and I was looking at a wheelchair sooner or later."

Daniel's life changed when he got his chair, including having the opportunity to try exciting sports he never had before. In January 2016, he spent two months in Middlesex as part of a wheelchair skills treatment and programme, and to learn what sports to get involved in. After this, he began shooting.

His skills were impressive, to the point that he was drafted to become a part of Team GB's paralympics squad but he eventually left.

"I was still trying lots of sports with lots of different charities and I wanted to try and do everything," he explained, "That's when I came away from the shooting as you had to live and breathe it."

Daniel focused on putting his name down on different events and opportunities with multiple charities. He has even been flown to the United States as part of an event, and travels around the country pushing himself.

He tried robotic legs in clinical trials for the "REX project" at Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Stanmore, in the spinal rehab unit.

He has won two trophies, in 2017 and 2018, titled "Back Up Push" organised by Back Charity, which is a race up and down Mount Snowdon in Wales. Climbing Mount Snowdon more than once.

Fly fishing in a fully wheelchair accessible boat, at Hanningfield resivour in Chelmsford, Essex

Daniel has also accomplished more with Sportability

  • Flown a glider.
  • Been quad biking, blokarting, sailing, canoeing, waterskiing and shooting.
  • Done archery and flown a light aircraft.
  • Taken up wheelchair tennis.
  • Competed in the Roma Sport National Series in August 2018 and won a gold medal.

Now, he also gives back, wanting to tell others the unbelievable things he's accomplished. He added:

"I volunteer at the spinal unit courses to teach others who have recently received a chair. I tell them it isn't as bad as it seems there is help and charities that will give you amazing experiences. When It finally happened to me I thought, 'we are here and now let's get on with it. I am not privileged to do this, everyone can do it, you have to want to do it and put your name down." I feel like I can do anything"

Some of the spectacular things he has done is down to Sportability, a charity bringing sports and challenging pursuits to people with paralysis. Daniel said:

"Sportability has had a huge impact on my life, reminding me physically of what I can still do and in most cases showing me something I never thought I could do. It gives me something to look forward to, an exciting opportunity to try new sports and to meet new people who are in a similar situation but who also have the drive to be active. After the events I am just on a high. I am relaxed, happy and content and have a feeling of total pride and achievement. This feeling can last from a day or up to a whole week. I cannot fully explain it. I feel like I can do anything, which is true, I can do anything. Sportabilty gives me that feeling every time I do their events."

Article by Lottie O'Neill, EssexLive

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