It’s a frightening fact that 36 people will become spinal cord injured due to accident or illness each festive season, Chris Barker was one of those affected after he became injured whilst serving in Iraq.

Initially Chris struggled in coming to terms with his injury, but with support from The Spinal Injuries Association charity he was able to rebuild his life and he found new ways of getting back to the things he loved. Chris has shared his thoughts and experiences below:

For a brief moment there was calm, as the dust around us hung in the air. An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) had been triggered.  The explosion had rolled our car across the desert. Dust, flames and smoke cradled us in.

I was doing a Close Protection Driver job and acting as the Convoy Commander in the lead vehicle, when we travelled across the central reservation in Iraq to be met by an eruption. I was working for the Multi National Division, so the equipment used to block the signal on the IED was not allowed because it was categorised as being for ‘British eyes only’.

My name is Chris Baker, I am 33 years old and during my 12-year career I completed tours around the world including Kosovo, Iraq and Ireland.

Following the explosion, I had pain in my back and pelvis and sought the advice of the doctor in the medical centre. The pain was diagnosed as being psychosomatic and I was told: “What do you expect, you’ve just been blown up.”

I went back out to work on the Kuwait/Iraq border and over the next four years activities like running, carrying weight and the everyday expectation of being a soldier, became more painful to carry out. Despite this, I completed the tour and carried on with my career.

By this point, I was in so much pain that I managed to persuade the doctor to send me to Headley Court for rehabilitation for the agony and post-traumatic stress disorder. On the fourth day there I collapsed during a warm up and lost control of my bodily functions in front of everyone.

The emergency MRI and CT scan revealed that I had a spinal cord injury and that calcium deposits were growing to try to repair the break. I also had an abnormal mass in my pelvis positioned on my sciatic nerve, putting further pressure on my bowel and bladder. When I was discharged from the Army in September 2010 I mentally collapsed. For six years I lived with unbearable and incontrollable pain. I shut off from the world because I couldn’t handle the agony, the constant need for carers, and not being able to do anything I enjoyed. I lost my independence and my will to live.

My Psychologists used to say: “It’s not the end of your life, it’s a new chapter and you’ll find new things to enjoy,” but back then I was in the mind-set that I didn’t want a new chapter or new things to enjoy; I enjoyed my old life.

After endless applications I finally had a spinal stimulator implanted. This brought my pain levels down to a high but manageable level. Without the crippling pain holding me back, I was able to attend the National Spinal Injuries Centre (NSIC) at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. What the staff did for me both mentally and physically was amazing.

I can now see that the wheelchair is just a tool to enable me to do whatever I want. I have learnt to accept where I am in life and how I got here.

Over the last couple of years I have had a wealth of support, including from Spinal Injuries Association’s Armed Forces Peer Support Officer, Lee Cairns. He has been my guardian angel and has given me outstanding support. I met Lee and Spinal Injuries Association ’s Vocational Support Manager, Dave Bracher, at the National Spinal Injuries Centre. Together, they have helped me to find a sense of direction.

I have learnt to accept where I am in life and how I got here

Photo: SIA

I’m just lucky that my life is now looking up; I’m doing great things, with some fantastic people.

How you can help: Celebrate #ChristmasLight and fundraise for spinal cord injured people

The Spinal Injuries Association is inviting you to join them on Facebook and Twitter this Christmas in using #ChristmasLight to raise awareness of spinal cord injury and raise funds to support more spinal cord injured people as they rebuild their lives.

The #ChristmasLight campaign is a fun and easy way for you to support the charity’s work. Here is a four step guide to how you can get involved:

  1. Enjoy the festivities by taking photos of #ChristmasLight on your tree, your house or even on yourself
  2. Donate £2 or more to support spinal cord injured people this Christmas by texting CSIA01 £2 to 70070 using JustTextGiving by Vodaphone
  3. Share your donation and photo on Facebook and Twitter using the #ChristmasLight hashtag
  4. And finally, nominate your Christmas loving friends and family to do the same.

The money you raise with #ChristmasLight will help the charity to broaden their support to spinal cord injured people and their families as they come to terms with their injury and rebuild their life at home and at work.

Please help more people like Chris receive the support they need to rebuild their lives by taking part and raising money and awareness for The Spinal Injuries Association.

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About Author

Nisha Kotecha is the Founder of Good News Shared. Having worked and volunteered for charities in the UK for over 10 years, Nisha is on a mission to highlight how amazing charities are.

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