“I’m in big, big trouble”

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Alejandro from Miramar in Argentina worked as a professional lifeguard and loved to do all kinds of sports. His life changed dramatically last year on a sunny day off. Alejandro decided to share his story to let others with spinal cord injury know, that they are not alone.

Please share with us how you sustained your spinal cord injury?

On a warm sunny afternoon on 28 March 2013, I decided to go surfing with a friend at the same beach I had been working at as a Lifeguard that season. I paddled out to join my friends who were already surfing. Suddenly I spotted a set coming and managed to get a wave which took me close to shore. It was such a nice feeling having that sensation of freedom on the water! But then things went wrong. I dived off the board head first, which was not wise. When I realised, it was too late.  I was on a sand bank with almost no water and going head first directly into it. Suddenly I could not feel my arms or legs.

What was your first thought after the accident?

I did not lose consciousness but was head down and unable to move and was having difficulty breathing. As an experienced Lifeguard in Argentina, Spain and England I knew that one of two things would happen. Either somebody would realise about my situation and rescue me, or there was no escape and I would drown. Suddenly a guy I did not know turned me over ... and he saved my life! He slowly took me on my board back to shore with the help of other lifeguards and friends.  It was then that I had my first clear thought: I'm in big big trouble!

How has your life changed since your injury?

On the physical side it has changed radically. I depend on other people to do most of my daily life activities. Things that were so easy now became huge challenges, and many are impossible to do on my own. I have to think twice about where I am going and what I will need. Things take longer and I have to change how I think about things; with many activities I have a team to help me whereas before I would have done them my own. You often have to overcome frustration and a need of going back to your "old" life,  especially when you had a very rich sporty lifestyle and now you can't move parts of your body.

Which are the biggest barriers in your everyday life?

My fingers not working means that I cannot hold or move things unless they are adapted or I have specific tools. Being in a wheelchair can be a nightmare with regards to obstacles, (big steps, steep or lack of ramps, no disabled toilets, uneven pavements, lack of  appropriate public transport etc). Bowel and bladder management, and spasticity can sometimes become a problem too.

What are the most positive aspects in your life?

The accident was like a new start. It's a whole challenge in itself to try to overcome difficulties and re-adapt things to be able to do what I set out to. Self improvement became something very important and positive. I also discovered my interest in radio and I'm part of a daily program now, so I am really happy to get back to work. Another great positive thing that has been such a surprise to me, is the love I have received from those around me. I now believe in angels! Quite a few of them came into my life with so much solidarity and this gave me a different view of things and changed my priorities, and I now put people first.
What are your dreams for the future?

Become as independent as you can until science can help us with improvements or eventually, a cure! A personal dream is to plan a family and to try to make all of my working projects come true; try to help improve things for disabled people and keep developing a better Lifeguard service in Miramar, the city where I live and where I was saved from drowning!

What are your hopes for spinal cord injury research?

Like many other people affected by this kind of injury, I hope that all the research done can eventually become the basis which will lead to a solution. Translated, for those people affected, to get back as much body functionality as possible. I'm aware that this solution may need loads of research (or hopefully not!). But as we do not know, it's fundamental that we provide research with as many resources as we can. Sometimes it's incredible to think that the injury itself is really small compared to the great body impairment it causes. But only those who suffer it know what it is to recover any functionality when they have been lost. So we need to support research hoping that one of several possible alternatives will sooner or later offer a cure for all of those with an injury, and for those that will unfortunately be injured in the future.

Do you like the idea of the Wings for Life World Run?

It is such a great idea! It brings several awesome things together: sport for everyone, solidarity at an international level, innovation with the format of the run and the catcher cars, lovely running environments, and all this to achieve one significant goal: find a cure for spinal cord injuries! This type of event organised at this level of participation has been unbelievable!
Could not be better!

Did anyone you know take part?  

Yes they did. Also, some friends and I were going to take part, however as I did not have an adapted vehicle to carry me on my wheelchair at the time we were not able to. The Wings for Life World Run 2015 is going to be our next goal, for sure!

Is there anything else you would like to mention?

Just give support to all those people that unfortunately, for many reasons, suffer a spinal cord injury. Also, thank you to Wings for Life and all those who work behind this organisation for their efforts and for providing hope.

Finally I would ask people to collaborate by donating or participating in the Wings for Life World Run. In the future this collaboration could mean freedom for many of those injured. It could mean giving us back our own wings for life!

When I worked as a beach Lifeguard, I was asked many times to help carry people in wheelchairs close to shore so they could enjoy it with their families. Today it is me who needs that help. Support Wings for Life, it can happen to any of us.

Thank you very much Alejandro for sharing your story!

If you have sustained a spinal cord injury after an accident and are interested in sharing your personal story, just send a short and informal message to office@wingsforlife.com. We would be very pleased to hear from you!