That One Fateful Trampoline Jump…
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“Raphael was lying in his hospital bed and had no idea that he had suffered a spinal cord injury,” says Annette. “I had sleepless nights and I kept thinking about this situation. How do you tell your child that he’s never going to walk again?” She speaks calmly, yet with strength. Her gaze lingers on her son’s immobile legs. “Every now and then my heart begins to race and I think to myself: this here - his spinal cord injury - will never go away. But then I repress the thought, reinforce that protective wall around me, and look to the future.”
Raphael’s Day Zero
We meet 15-year-old Raphael and his parents, Annette and Wolfgang, in a café. Raphael doesn’t order anything, which isn’t unusual. “When I used to do a lot of sport, I drank six litres of water a day. Since my accident I can’t sweat anymore. I drink very little now and I’m hardly ever thirsty.” It sounds like a small change, yet it’s another mosaic piece of a completely new life. “Everything was different in the past. I played volleyball and football. I loved skiing and acrobatics. Everything took place in the great outdoors.”
Then came the fateful day in the summer holidays of 2017.
“On the 15thof August, I decided to visit a nearby lake. I arrived ten minutes before my friends and figured I’d kill some time on the trampoline.” The sun was out in full force, scorching the ground. Raphael jumped, sweated, and let off steam. He propelled himself upwards with forceful leg movements, again and again. But his body couldn’t take the strain, his circulation was weakened. “I felt dizzy and hit the middle of the trampoline neck first, unchecked.” Raphael’s body rebounded a little, then remained motionless. “I remember it very well. All I could do was move my eyes.”
After a few minutes, a holidaymaker became aware of the injured boy. “Every touch felt like a burning knife being rammed into my body.” Then his friends arrived.
“I had just left the house when Raphael’s classmate called me. She told me that my son had fallen down and couldn’t move his legs. I’m a mother of two boys, so I’m used to all sorts of trouble. I didn’t think it was anything dramatic at the time…” Annette arrived at the scene of the accident shortly thereafter. She knelt next to her son to calm him down. “In such a situation, you simply function somehow.” Raphael was lifted into a rescue helicopter by emergency physicians.
“Mum, I Know…”
Annette feared for her child at the hospital. Her husband was on a foreign assignment with the Austrian military at the time. Her older son, Philipp, was spending several weeks in Ireland. Raphael was examined closely and had to undergo emergency surgery. Then he was put into artificial deep sleep. Two days later, Wolfgang returned home and had to absorb what had happened.
An attentive pastor soon realised that the parents hadn’t received sufficient information regarding their son’s injury. “Then the head physician filled us in. He explained that Raphael’s vertebrae were displaced by the fall and that the spinal cord was injured at the level of the 5thcervical vertebra. He told us that our son was now quadriplegic, which meant that he cannot walk, that he cannot move his arms and fingers.” It was a horrific diagnosis. “But he also reassured us that our son was young and would cope well with his fate.” Annette and Wolfgang were still struggling to come to terms with it all.
Raphael spent two weeks in artificial deep sleep, which was followed by a long recovery phase. He couldn’t talk. “We were at his side all the time, commuted from Styria to Salzburg, and rented a room nearby for the weekends. All we could do was try and calm him down,” Wolfgang explains.
The worries and fears came when the couple was alone in the evenings. “We were afraid of the future. But the worst aspect for me was that my son didn’t even know that he was paralysed,” Annette remembers.
“They didn’t have to,” Raphael interjects. “I know right from the start was happening with me, kind of. When my condition improved a little and I slowly regained my voice, I talked to a nurse about it.”
When Annette visited her son in the ICU that day, he welcomed her with the words: “Mum, I know.” It was a huge relief for the mother of two. “I couldn’t have looked him in the eye and explained something like that…”
An Arduous Path
Raphael started his rehab after six weeks. None of the functions returned - his body remained paralysed. But he began to familiarise himself with the wheelchair, underwent various therapies, and built up muscles again. “The therapists told me that it was good that I had done a lot of sport before the accident and that I was still young. That made it easier,” the young man says before carefully reaching for his mother’s glass of water.
Raphael was allowed to return home after eight months of rehab. “In the meantime, we had remodelled everything at home. I was initially reluctant to accept donations from friends and acquaintances, but one soon realises how expensive a spinal cord injury is. That’s when one is just grateful,” Annette muses. Raphael seems serene. His family gives him enormous support. His brother, Philipp, takes him out a lot - to parties or to the cinema. “I get up at 2am every night to turn and catheterise him,” Wolfgang explains. “And I help him whenever he struggles with drying himself or dressing,” Annette adds.
Their greatest wish is an independent life for their son. Raphael exercises a lot to achieve this. He started attending an agricultural school that offers a high school diploma a few months ago. An assistant helps him during practical training lessons. “I explain the theory and she does the work for me. That usually works quite well, but not always…”
Raphael wants to be a teacher. He’s very determined. “I’m actually coping quite well,” he says matter-of-factly. “But if there really was a cure, I’d love to play volleyball with my friends again.” He’d like to be as carefree as he was before the accident. At the lake with the trampoline…