Steven Simmons is a Munster rugby fan. Having played the sport for years, he would have loved to represent his team, but a shoulder injury prevented him from realising his dream. Despite this, he continued to play both rugby and football, and coached young people in his community – until a devastating accident last August changed the course of his life.
he 25-year-old, who was working in Taylor Made Glass factory at the time, was travelling home after doing some weekend security work for music festivals when he was involved in an accident, which would render him paralysed from the chest down.
“Every summer for the past eight years, I did security at different festivals, as being 6ft 3in, it was a job that suited me,” says the Tipperary man. “I loved meeting different people and have made lifelong friends from it.
“But on Friday, August 2, 2019, my life changed forever. I travelled down to the festival with a group of my friends and was meant to return home with them, but I met with some other people I knew and decided to stay on.”
Steven ended up travelling home that night but doesn’t remember much about the accident.
He believes he was knocked out and, when he woke up, was upside down with his arm caught behind his back, his head at an angle and he found it difficult to breathe.
Then he passed out again and woke up in hospital, where he was later referred to the Spinal Injuries Unit at the Mater Hospital.
“My family were able to fill in the blanks for me as Mam and Dad got a phone call at 6am to say that I was involved in an RTA,” says the Tipperary man, who has four siblings.
“They called the rest of my family and when they got to A&E, I was conscious, but kept saying I couldn’t feel my legs.
“I was young, naïve and stupid and had thought I was invincible, and this was my strongest regret.
“My family kept telling me that I was a good person and tried to reassure me that sometimes your body goes numb after a big bang.
“But after a CT scan in Waterford, I was sent to the Mater for an MRI and it was there that the doctors told my family that I would never walk again.”
The family was devastated, but they kept the news to themselves as they tried to put on a brave face for Steven, who currently lives in Clarinbridge Nursing Home in Galway.
Test results revealed he would need immediate surgery and following this, it was confirmed Steven would never walk again as he was paralysed from the chest down.
“It was like there had been a death in the family,” he says.
“And in some ways, I suppose it was the death of my old life and the beginning of my new one. My family mourned the life I had lost, and all the things they thought I would never be able to do again.
“They were all just sitting there crying and hugging each other and telling me that they would always be there for me.
“I had suffered a fracture and dislocation at my c6/7 vertebrae, and doctors basically had to fuse my spine at my neck back together.
“My impairments, along with the spinal cord injury, are dysreflexia, neurogenic bladder, neurogenic bowel, and tetraplegia.
“This means I needed a catheter and for a time until I got my bowels trained, I had to be changed when I made a bowel movement.
“I can’t blow my nose or cough and suffer with chest infections and high blood-pressure spikes.”
A week after his surgery, he was fitted with a tracheotomy which enabled him to talk and despite being devastated by the nature of his injuries, he vowed to try and be as positive as possible.
“I spent three months in the Spinal Injuries Unit and was hitting all the recovery milestones thanks to the staff who had really done a good job,” he says.
“They will always hold a close place in my heart, especially the health care assistants and nurses that cared for me and don’t get enough recognition for the job they do.
“I love them all dearly as they helped me see that my life was not ending, it was just beginning.”
While Steven will never regain his mobility, he says the therapies he received have allowed him to come to terms with his disability and learn how to cope with his new life.
“I am not someone who shows much emotion, but I can never put into words how grateful I am to each and every person who helped me, “he says. “Sometimes I find myself thinking that it is all a dream, but I am a positive person and know I have to get on with it.
“There is no point dwelling on the past or worrying about the future as it just leads you to a dark place, so I focus on the here and now, and that is what is getting me by.
“But it does take its toll mentally – it can be hard being in a nursing home and sometimes I get frustrated and let my positive side slip as I am only human.
“However, having said that, they are brilliant to me in here and take such good care of me.
“I spend as much time as I can in the gym, building up my arms because it’s the only part of my body I can, and exercise is good for the head. I have no movements in my fingers, but I have adapted to that also and can use a manual wheelchair. All I try to do is adapt and overcome anything that comes my way, and I am getting good results.”
Steven and his family are hoping he can move back home, but the cost of fitting out the house to cope with his needs is prohibitive.
“I need to have an extension built on to Mam and Dad’s modest three-bedroom home, with a bedroom and wet room, and also the downstairs of their house needs to be adapted, so I’m not just confined to my bedroom,” he says.
“The cost is €82,000 for the build alone and my family don’t have that money – even though people have been so generous with raising funds, it is nowhere near the amount needed.
“Mam applied for a housing adaptation grant, which the maximum payment is €30,000, but they were told they would only get about €5,000.
“I don’t understand how the HSE can pay €3,600 a month to keep me in a nursing home, but we can’t get a one-off payment of €30,000. I just want to go home and get back to my community and, most importantly, my family and be a contributing member of society.
“My goal is to open a gym for people in wheelchairs as I believe it’s not your spinal injury that stops you leading the life you want. But just because you don’t have the money, you shouldn’t have to pass your life away in a nursing home.
“I know my family will never let that happen and I would advise anyone that ends up in this situation to take each day at a time.
“The show must go on, your life has not ended, it is just beginning – you are stronger than you think you are.”
In order to raise funds for the Mater Hospital, Steven is undertaking a mammoth 100-mile hand-bike race.
To donate, visit https://www.facebook.com/donate/317541419268888/.
Steven also has a gofundme page, Push for Simmo
Health & Living