A father-of-one has defied the odds by walking again after a horror rugby tackle left him paralyzed from the chest.
Ashley Mooney, 31, was paralyzed after the bizarre accident during a match for Redditch Rugby Club in Worcestershire last October.
He was taken to hospital with devastating spinal injuries and was told he had only a 1 percent chance of walking again, he claimed.
His first break came within just three weeks of the accident when he realized he could wiggle his toes while in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
In December, around his 30th birthday, he was able to stand for the first time after being transferred to a specialist spinal ward in Oswestry, Shropshire.
His father died in January, but despite the loss, he used it to urge him to carry his coffin to the funeral months later.
And after months of rehabilitation, hard work and willpower, Mr. Mooney stunned doctors by taking his first steps unaided in April.
Despite fears that his “active life was over” when he was injured, he was back behind the wheel in May.
Now Mr Mooney says he is ready to return to work as a firefighter after proving his doctors wrong.
Ashley Mooney, 31, from Redditch, Worcestershire, has defied the odds by walking again after being paralyzed from the chest down by a horror rugby tackle
He was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham with devastating spinal injuries and was told he had only a 1 percent chance of walking again.
Mr Mooney was paralyzed after the accident during a match for Redditch Rugby Club (pictured in his kit, left) in Worcestershire on 2 October last year
WHAT IS A SKILLED SPINAL TREE INJURY?
The cervical spinal cord is the top part of the vertebrae and is located in the neck.
It consists of seven sections – C1-to-C7.
The higher the injury to the spine, the more severe the damage and the more likely it is to be life-threatening.
A C1-C4 spinal cord injury affects the high cervical nerves. It is the most severe of all levels of spinal cord injury and paralyzes the arms, hands, trunk and legs.
A patient may not be able to breathe, cough, or control bowel movements or bladder movements on their own.
The ability to speak is sometimes impaired or impaired.
When all four limbs are affected, it is called tetraplegia or quadriplegia.
It requires full assistance with activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing, bathing, and getting in or out of bed.
The patient may be able to use power wheelchairs with special controls to move around independently, but cannot drive independently.
Sometimes the patient needs personal care 24 hours a day.
An ‘incomplete’ spinal cord injury means that the spinal cord’s ability to carry messages to or from the brain is not completely lost.
Although a quadriplegic cannot move their limbs, “incomplete” often means they still have some feeling in the arms and legs, even if it is weak.
Some quadriplegic patients have been able to regain some function once the swelling subsides or if they have surgery to remove something pressing on their spinal cord.
Mr Mooney, who lives with his wife Victoria, 36, and their 16-year-old son, said: ‘I feel extremely happy. I just wanted to keep proving people wrong.
“I thought my active life was over. But when I first started to get that movement after a few weeks, the valve changed.
“Even when I moved my legs, a counselor said I would never walk, but I just said I would prove him wrong.”
Mr Mooney suffered the serious injury in a ruck clearout while playing against Cannock Rugby Club.
The accident ‘forced’ his spine into his spinal cord.
He had crushed both the C5 and C6 spinal nerves at the base of his neck.
Shocking X-rays show how Mooney’s spine remained completely deformed, which doctors said gave him little chance to walk again.
Spinal Injuries Association estimates estimate that about 2,500 people in Great Britain sustain spinal injuries each year.
The cervical spinal cord is located in the neck and consists of seven sections: C1 at the top to C7 at the bottom.
The higher the injury, the more serious the damage and the more likely it is to be life-threatening.
C5 injuries, such as Mr Mooney’s, make up 15 percent of all spinal cord injuries.
They can be either complete, where there is no nerve signal below the section, or incomplete, where some pathways persist.
Mr Mooney’s was incomplete, allowing him to wiggle his toes, but this still leads to paralysis in most cases.
Injuries to the C5 spine are also associated with a range of other symptoms, including muscle loss, spasms, difficult breathing, and inability to control the bladder and bowels.
Some quadriplegic patients have been able to regain some function once the swelling subsides or if they have surgery to remove something pressing on their spinal cord
He said: ‘It was just a normal Saturday and it was traditional British weather, all rain. There was an injury early in the game and that set the tone.
“I got injured about 10 to 15 minutes later. It was during a cleanup. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it clearly made contact with my head.
‘An hour later I was taken across the rugby field to an ambulance who took me to the QE in Birmingham.
“They did an X-ray, but I kind of understood that this wouldn’t be a quick patch and would be back tomorrow.
“They told me I had crushed the C5 and C6 of my spine and it had penetrated my spinal cord.
“I turned 30 in intensive care and didn’t feel anything from my chest anymore.”
Shocking X-rays show how Mr Mooney’s neck remained completely deformed, leaving him little chance of walking again
He had crushed both the C5 and C6 spinal nerves at the base of his neck, leaving him with an injury that most people never recover from. Left: Mr Mooney’s scar after the injury. Right: Mr Mooney after being able to use his legs again
But Mr Mooney, who also runs a landscaping and roofing business, was able to move his toes on Oct. 28 and within five days he was able to move his legs.
He said, ‘It just went from there. By December 4, I was able to lift and hold my arms. I started doing my own exercises in my room, I had a 1kg dumbbell that I used.
‘It was December 21 when I really stood up for the first time. The physio said I had good leg strength. When playing rugby, my legs have always been my best asset.
“They were able to leave me standing, not completely alone, but I stood again and knew that I literally had to take the next steps.”
Mooney had to return home earlier than planned on January 17 after his father was tragically killed.
But using the tragedy as inspiration, he became determined to carry his father’s coffin and ditch his wheelchair for a Zimmer frame.
He then spent weeks on end in rehabilitation units with help from the Injured Players Foundation and The Firefighters Charity.
He said, ‘I was adamant that I could carry Daddy. I wore it with my brothers and uncle.
“Then the Injured Players Foundation helped me – they even paid the woman’s fuel to see me and helped with the house bills for six months in the beginning.
“I went to their recovery center and spent three weeks there and after that I didn’t need my Zimmer.
“It was five hours a day of rehab and it was really intense, it’s what you need.”
He started driving on May 9 after attending an inspection day to assess how he drove the car.
Mooney added: “In January I was still in a wheelchair, I remember being angry, but in May I was driving.
‘My hands still don’t quite work and I have a long list of medicines. I also have a limp, so physically I will never be 100 percent again.
“But I want to go back to the fire service and pass the physical test again. I want to go back to work full time.
“I wouldn’t return to rugby though, my playing days are over. It’s hard to understand why I’ve recovered and many people who’ve had the same injury haven’t.
“I think I’ve defied the odds.”