© Henry Welisch

Paralyzed Overnight


Back to overview

Imagine what it must feel like to go to bed healthy and wake up paralysed, trapped in your own body and unable to move. Philipp Kuttin experienced this nightmare. This is his story.

One day in August, Philipp woke up in the middle of the night. Everything around him was pitch black. At first, he had no clue where he actually was. He could feel a slight breeze dancing around the tip of his nose and damp grass brushing against his ear. When he felt the same sensation on his fingers, he realised that he was lying in a meadow. He could make out an angular silhouette directly above him, which turned out to be the balcony of his hotel room. His first thought was that he was surely dreaming. Philipp attempted to stand up, but his legs refused to move. There was a stabbing pain in his back. Everything around him was completely silent. Gradually he began to realise that something was horribly wrong. This was not a bad dream at all. He called out for help. “Please do not let me suffer the same fate as Luki Müller, not like Luki,” was the mantra he kept on repeating to himself. Lukas Müller is one of Philipp’s former training partners, who suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury in a fall at the ski jump arena on the Kulm.

Philipp shares photos of his former life. (Henry Welisch)
Philipp shares photos of his former life.  © Henry Welisch

An army colleague finally heard Philipp’s cries for help. The duo was on a summer excursion in Upper Austria at the time. His colleague immediately called an ambulance, and the paramedics arrived soon thereafter. “I remember that everyone looked at me very strangely,” says Philipp as he recounts the fateful night that turned his life upside down. He remained conscious the entire trip to the hospital, his condition a curious blend of shock and composure. At this time, his parents were a three-hour drive away, at home in Carinthia. They immediately set off upon hearing the news. Philipp's sister, Jasmin, also rushed to his side.

One and a half days after undergoing surgery, Philipp’s condition deteriorated rapidly as he suffered a collapsed lung. This perilous condition made it almost impossible to breathe. The then 22-year-old was in mortal danger. His family feared for his life. “My parents took it really hard,” Philipp remembers. Luckily, he regained consciousness after a few hours. He was out of the woods, but his body had suffered irreversible damage. A senior physician delivered his diagnosis later that day: complete spinal cord injury. “That was when my world was shattered. I simply did not want to believe it,” says Philipp.

Family time: Heinz, Gabriele, Jasmin, and Philipp Kuttin on holiday on the island of Elba in 2016. (Private)
Family time: Heinz, Gabriele, Jasmin, and Philipp Kuttin on holiday on the island of Elba in 2016.  © Private

His first week in hospital was rough. His feet burned like fire, and he required strong pain medication. These nerve pains still occur even now. But there was more that Philipp suddenly had to contend with. His bladder and bowels no longer function, meaning he is dependent on help from others. “One simply does not feel it anymore.” After he was discharged from hospital, he was told to spend almost five months in rehabilitation facilities in Murnau and Bad Häring. What followed were days packed with physiotherapy and regeneration exercises. Philipp learned about the skills he needs in order to master his new life. “The catheter is something you need to get used to from day one, otherwise you cannot go to the toilet. That was immensely difficult for me,” Philipp recalls. The fact that he was meeting many other recently injured patients initially created an aura of despair and hopelessness.

Philipp was a Nordic combined athlete for five years. He ended his career in 2018. (Romina Eggert)
Philipp was a Nordic combined athlete for five years. He ended his career in 2018.  © Romina Eggert

A Fall Into a Different Life
How did it come to this? To this day, Philipp does not know what exactly happened that night in August. There was no drinking involved, but he has a history of sleepwalking. “My mum found me sitting in the bathroom five years ago. I myself have no recollection of how I got there,” Philipp muses. Fact is, he fell 8.5 metres from a second-floor balcony that night in 2020 – in his sleep. “My lowest flight to date,” he says dryly and laughs.

This comment is an excellent example of how the now 23-year-old deals with his fate. He has the mentality of an athlete. Looking back is pointless – you need to invest all your energy in moving forward. “I have come to terms with the memory of how my body used to function. My sole focus is on the here and now.” Philipp, the son of two-time ski jumping world champion and Olympic medallist Heinz Kuttin, once followed his father’s footsteps as a Nordic combined athlete. He still enjoys a very close relationship with his parents, not least because the family lives under the same roof. “My parents fell into a deep hole when they were confronted with the X-rays of my broken back,” says the young Carinthian. Following the accident, Philipp’s father, Heinz, spent almost two weeks at the side of his son’s hospital bed. His parents’ house was made barrier-free while Philipp was in rehab. “My new bathroom features a sign that reads ‘pee lounge’. My sister simply could not resist,” Philipp says with a grin. What has not changed throughout the harrowing experience is his close relationship with his family – and his love of online gaming. “I enjoy the gaming experience, preferably in a team. I have always been a team player. I met plenty of cool people in the gaming scene, some of whom even visited me while I was on rehab in Murnau.”

Support: Mum Gabriele is one of the most important people in Philipp's life. (Henry Welisch )
Support: Mum Gabriele is one of the most important people in Philipp's life.  © Henry Welisch

All for One
Philipp’s accident triggered a wave of sympathy in his environment. The Klagenfurt ski jumping community wasted no time in launching a fundraising campaign to help their former teammate. Biathlon world champion Lisa Hauser even drummed up a team for the Wings for Life World Run. On the day, the “OESV Biathlon for Philipp Kuttin” team boasted an unbelievable 419 members and raised more than 11,000 Euros for spinal cord research. “It was so awesome to see so many people participate to support both me and my future.” Philipp himself joined the race with 40 teammates in the Weißensee region of Carinthia. “It was an incredibly hot day, but I managed to cover 13.5 kilometres in the end.”

Philipp is not one to look back, he prefers to focus on the future. (Henry Welisch)
Philipp is not one to look back, he prefers to focus on the future.  © Henry Welisch

Philipp’s next stop is Vienna, where he intends to start a sports equipment construction degree. “I am really looking forward to it. That is exactly my cup of tea,” he says with a smile. Philipp seems strong and determined as he looks ahead. He has found a way to draw strength from his optimism, which seems to make it easier for him to accept his fate. He never lets on that he, still such a young person, has suffered so greatly. One does sense a touch of sadness when the question of what he misses comes up. “I miss some things, of course. Spontaneous trips and going out with friends are things I always enjoyed doing,” Philipp says as his gaze wistfully scans the sky. “And I miss flying, the ease of it. If there was a cure, the first things I would do would be ski jumping and skydiving again.”

"If there was a cure, the first things I would do would be ski jumping and skydiving again." (Henry Welisch)
"If there was a cure, the first things I would do would be ski jumping and skydiving again."  © Henry Welisch

Our main goal is to make spinal cord injuries curable. Please help us support the most promising research projects and clinical trials worldwide by donating. Thank you so much!