Wings for Life UK Science and Sports Day

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A variety of our supporters came together at Stoke Mandeville, the birthplace of the Paralympics, to speak and hear about some of our current research projects. The day also brought everyone together by playing wheelchair rugby with Leicester Tiger Wheelchair Rugby Captain and Wings for Life supporter, James Price.

We began the day with an introduction and welcome from Head of Wings for Life UK, Nikki Wilson. With 45 ongoing studies and two clinical trials in progress, Nikki gave an overview of our current work. In addition, Nikki updated guests on our exciting epidural stimulation research project called The Big Idea, which we are working on with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Three of our scientific researchers presented a summary of their work. Elizabeth Bradbury of University College London explained what happens to the spinal cord when an injury occurs and about nerve regeneration, gene delivery of chondroitinase and how chondroitinase promotes functional recovery following spinal cord injury.

Next, we welcomed Jessica Kwok of Cambridge University who told us about how nerve regeneration is hindered by CSPGs after a spinal cord injury and how regeneration and plasticity is increased when CSPGs are removed.

Guests were then told about one of our funded clinical trials; Samira Saadoun from St George’s University, London is studying monitoring techniques to improve the management of patients with a spinal cord injury. Currently, the early management of spinal cord injury varies as there is no monitoring from the injury site to guide scientists. Therefore, the team are developing monitoring techniques in the intensive care unit, including looking at spinal cord pressure and how the patient is positioned in the bed.

Our researchers chatted to everyone, giving them more information on their studies and answering questions. One of our supporters, David Oliver said that the presentations, "made the connection between raising money and seeing it in use right now very tangible. The clarity they provided shows just how realistic improvements for some people in their recovery is and for certain categories of injury aspects of their function can be restored.“  

We then invited guests to take on the exciting challenge of wheelchair rugby. Captain of the Leicester Tigers Wheelchair Rugby team, James Price lead this session by organising some practice drills first to get players familiarised with the chairs.

 Even the youngest supporters were keen to get involved!

The session saw four aside games where everyone got a chance to take part and help keep the score. Although somewhat shy at first, it didn’t take long for players to get competitive with everyone fully embracing the challenge.

Everyone really threw themselves into the event, with a brilliant afternoon racing and laughing! Wings for Life supporter, Oliver Spencer said, “I soon realised how fit and strong you need to be to play wheelchair rugby. I have such admiration for James and others who compete at their pro level!”

After all the excitement of the games, we brought everyone back together to hear directly from James Price, who spoke of how he suffered his spinal cord injury whilst abroad on holiday diving into the sea and hitting a sand bank. He went through a very difficult time in his recovery and through his love for sport, found wheelchair rugby and the Leicester Tigers.

James told us all the story behind his accident whilst on holiday, diving into the sea and hitting a hidden sandbank changed his life in an instant. He now views life in a positive way. James spoke of the moment he accepted the dramatic change after trying to walk and falling. This was the moment he realised that he might never walk again.

“Having sustained a broken neck myself in 1999 resulting in 2/3rds paralysis and permanent wheelchair use, wheelchair rugby became an absolute saviour to me. Discovering Wings for Life and their work and personally raising money for them, I couldn’t have been more pleased to also deliver wheelchair rugby for them at their conference – playing wheelchair rugby gives a real insight to a quadriplegic's life and I love seeing the sceptical faces turn to faces of enjoyment and yearning for more Long may Wings for Life and wheelchair rugby have a relationship”. James Price.

The day welcomed a range of our supporters including our Ambassador and Friend Sean Rose and Paul Fairhurst, corporate supporters including Arc, Rexam, Innovision, and AMS Media Group, Wings for Life World Run International Sports Director Colin Jackson and Wings for Life World Run Ambassador Danny Crates, together with our individual supporters and their families, and of course our Researchers and Scientists.

A huge thank you to everyone who took part in making the day such a success and for all of your continued support.

Images by Mark Roe,