"Please. Please no Spinal Cord Injury…"
It’s been three years since Patrik Fritzer injured his spinal cord in an accident. He takes us back to the most difficult time of his life and tells us about his hope for a cure.
“Right after I crashed, I knew what had happened. I just thought to myself: ‘Please. Please no spinal cord injury…’” Patrik Fritzer invited us to his flat in Kössen in Tyrol. The sun is streaming into the room through the large windows. Patrik asks us to open the sliding door that leads out onto the terrace to let some cool air in. For the last three years, he has been in need of assistance almost constantly. “There are so many things I can no longer do since that accident”, the 29-year-old says as he begins to tell his story.
He takes us back to the year 2013. Patrik was sociable, athletic, and eager to test his own limits. The trained locksmith and his friends decided to travel to the Czech Republic. “We were a group of more than fifteen people. The plan was to spend a few days on Supermoto bikes”, he recalls. On the 6th of July, right after breakfast, the group headed for the race track. “We drove around for a bit and I soon became increasingly confident. And then I misjudged my own capabilities.” Patrik lost control of his bike and was propelled over the handlebars. His head smashed into a barrier of tyres. “On impact, I heard a crack. My arms and legs started to tingle. That’s when I realised what had happened.” His friends rushed over to help. “I screamed at them that they shouldn’t move me or remove my helmet, because I had injured my spinal cord.” One of the boys tried to calm Patrik down by suggesting that it may just be a pinched nerve. “Through the helmet, I asked him to squeeze my hand. When he said that he was already doing just that, my initial fear was confirmed.” Patrik was flown to a specialised clinic in Pilsen by helicopter, where he received initial treatment and was x-rayed. He was then placed in an artificial coma for almost six weeks. During this time, he survived two surgeries and a severe bout of pneumonia. “The wake-up phase lasted more than a week. I was completely dazed. Dreams and reality kept on blending into each other. Luckily, my family was by my side day and night.”
The Tyrolean was transferred to the hospital in Innsbruck a week after the accident. “The fourth cervical and the surrounding spinal cord were damaged. I was completely paralysed, meaning that I lost all my bodily functions below that area.” Patrik remembers the difficult time well. “It wasn’t just that I couldn’t move my legs. I suddenly had no feeling at all. I needed help in terms of my bladder and bowel.”
Patrik found it difficult to come to terms with his new situation at the time. “One time, I wanted to cover myself with a blanket and couldn’t manage it alone. That’s when I started to realise the extent of it all.”
He relived the accident in his head over and over again, thinking about what he could have done differently. “If only the word if wouldn’t exist”, he smiles weakly. During the first phase of his rehabilitation in Bad Häring, he continued to fight against his impairment. “At the beginning, I rejected all the aids that everyone kept on talking about.” Patrik talked to others affected by similar injuries and subsequently started accepting things designed to make his life a little easier. After putting an enormous amount of willpower into extensive exercise, he eventually replaced his heavy electric wheelchair with a lighter sport version. He was finally allowed to go home after six months. “My parents’ house was not suitable at all, which is why we rented a bungalow nearby. I lived there with a 24-hour carer for a year.” But this was merely a temporary solution.
“A year ago, my parents sold their house. They bought this flat for me and the flat below for themselves.” He has adjusted well to his new environment. He knows his parents are always close by and has regained some degree of independence. “I was able to leave 24-hour care in January. A caregiver supplied by ‘Selbstbestimmt Leben’ assists me in the morning and evening. I get food delivered at noon, go to therapy twice a week, and try to exercise as often as possible”, he says while describing his day-to-day life. His brother and friends come over often to keep him occupied. “That fact, as well as the closeness to my family, is something that hasn’t changed compared to the time before the accident”, he says with gratitude. He is currently thinking about how he can pursue a career. “I was a train driver before the accident. That was a cool job. I am currently pondering the possibility of attending university. I could study something that doesn’t require physical presence. Psychology perhaps…”
“I Miss Walking Barefoot”
On the 8th of May, Patrik will partake in the Wings for Life World Run in Munich as a member of “Team Kini”. “I am really looking forward to that. On this day, the whole world is made aware of spinal cord injuries. That is a great feeling.”
Patrik hopes that there will be a cure for spinal cord injuries one day. “I am not merely sitting around and waiting. I try to come to terms with my new life. But of course I have great hope that I will be able to feel and walk again one day”, the young man says. “If I could walk, the first thing I’d do is to run through grass barefoot”, he dreams. Patrik now has a woman in his life. “Even in that respect there are so many little things I miss. I would, for instance, love to stroke her cheek and actually feel something in my hands…”
Wings for Life backs research programmes and clinical studies around the globe. Our mission: making spinal cord injuries curable. Please support us with donations. 100% of your contribution is invested in spinal cord research.