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My name is Philip White, and I’m a fiercely independent man. I am the husband to my beautiful wife, Jacqui, and the father of four amazing children: Ollie, Louis, Alex and Georgia. I have been blessed with an incredible circle of friends and colleagues and, most recently, with a gorgeous granddaughter called Sofia. I am 54 years old. I am a keen cyclist, a runner and overall a very active person. I love work and I’m a life-long Crystal Palace fan.
My relationship with the club started in the early 70s when, as a young boy, I went to my first game with my father. In 1976, I managed every round of the memorable FA Cup run, right through to the semi-finals. Despite ending in heartbreak, I was hooked. As a fan, I've travelled the length and the breadth of the country and made lifelong friends. I've always been proud to be a Palace fan.
It all sounds idyllic, and up until 19 January 2019, it all was – until an unremarkable fall turned our world on its head. It was a Saturday morning. I had made the decision to tidy the garage, a simple weekend chore. In an attempt to place a box of floor tiles on one of the shelves, I used a 5ft stepladder. As I stood on top of it holding the box of tiles, the ladder toppled, and I fell. The fall in itself was relatively innocuous, resulting in a fractured scapula, the trajectory and impact of the tiles less so. The tiles landed on my neck with a shard of bone splintering from C5 vertebrae and into my spinal cord at C4.
To make matters worse, the garage doors were locked with me and the keys inside. My wife and my son Louis both heard the crash, they came running but couldn’t get into the garage. A frantic search for the spare keys began. After what seemed like an eternity, but in reality less than 5 minutes, the whir of the electric door kicked in. My wife and my son were clearly distressed. At this point, I remember feeling calm and fear in equal measure – not being able to move at all, not even one finger, was a surreal situation.
Clinical Trials & Hard Work
The emergency services were called and within a matter of minutes the paramedic rapid response arrived, followed shortly by the police, an ambulance and the air ambulance. I was taken straight to Kings College Hospital in Denmark Hill. I don’t remember much about that afternoon, being heavily sedated, unable to move and with a brace around my head and neck. What I do remember is sending Louis out into the forecourt of the hospital to get a phone signal and look for updates on the Crystal Palace match away against Liverpool, which unfortunately resulted in a 4-3 defeat, just to add insult to injury. I was transferred to St George’s Hospital the next day, I underwent surgery within 24 hours with the leading neuro team and enrolled in the Wings for Life funded i-scope clinical initiative. After surgery all I could do was shrug my right shoulder, and the prognosis was a less than 10% chance of improvement.
From this minute on I have continued to work hard every day, to improve, to be the best I can be, to repay the faith that everyone has placed in me and, most importantly, to make my family proud. Every day since I remember, I accept whatever life throws at me; the thing is, I never expected a challenge like this and with such a wide-reaching impact on everybody else. Despite my kids being old enough to look after themselves, the hardest thing for me is the overwhelming feeling that I have let them all down.
I endured 6 long months in hospital, initially at St George’s but subsequently transferred to the spinal cord injury centre at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore. Stanmore gave me a platform for future living, in reality it helped me achieve the right mindset for all the challenges ahead and prepared me for life after being discharged. I was discharged six months to the day on 19 July 2019. I was intent on directing all my energy into recovery and rehab.
Being back home was amazing. However, with the level of care I require, welcoming a stranger into the family home to provide 24/7 support with your most intimate and personal needs, is a necessary but unwelcome intrusion to the already fragile family dynamic. The hospital bed, the hoist, the standing frame and the shower chair, together with a cupboard full of medical supplies, unquestionably change the look and feel of your dream home and are a constant reminder to everybody of how life has changed.
Spinal cord injury is unlike any other injury. Effort does not equal reward at any sort of pace that is acceptable. Four to five hours training a day, seven days a week, often in a one-to-one support environment done through a mix of independent training at home, as well as working with the amazing team at Neurokinex, a specialised neurological rehabilitation centre. I started this journey with the unwavering belief that this is a temporary situation, and that injured does not mean disabled. I still believe this.
I’ve broken it down into goals focused on small, incremental gains in functionality and strength. The ability to perform simple everyday tasks that you take for granted are my milestones. Feeding myself, brushing my teeth, finishing a cup of tea, managing to navigate my laptop keyboard and touchscreen is progress. Being able to drink a nice red wine from a stemmed glass is heaven. All this proves I can do so much more than a right shoulder shrug, as originally predicted.
What the future holds
My love affair with Palace continues. The club, owners, investors, staff and fans have been incredibly supportive, as I embark on this long road of rehabilitation and target of recovery.
So, what does the future hold? Hopefully a COVID-free environment for everybody. And for me, achieving the required arm functionality and strength, and conquering transferring with the help of one person. This will hopefully mean I will no longer need a live-in PA, and I will be able to transfer to a sofa so I can cuddle up with my beautiful wife, and even tickle her smelly feet once again!
If I can improve my hand functionality, maybe there’s a chance I’ll no longer need support when it comes to bladder and bowel management – it never gets any easier or any less embarrassing. I look through photos of my family and especially of my granddaughter and look with envy and sadness as I see her in the arms of her other grandfather. I dream of sitting her on my lap, cuddling her and playing with her.
The progress that has been made in spinal cord injury research and treatment over the last five years has been greater than in the previous 25. With my unwavering resolve, my commitment and desire to continue to work hard every day, when the time comes, I will be in the best possible health that I can be. And who knows, if it really is as good as the white papers and the scientific reports suggest, maybe, just maybe, I will be able to fulfil my promise to my daughter and walk her down the aisle. I want to make everybody proud.
Our big goal is to find a cure for spinal cord injury. Please take part in the Wings for Life World Run or support us with your donation. Thank you so much :-)