“The Immediate Aftermath Was Worst”

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Sebastian fell into a streambed at the age of 18. The accident left him paralysed from the neck down and forced him to start his life anew. Today, he shares his experiences with managers and their teams.

Sebastian found himself lying motionless in a streambed. His clothes, shoes, and hair were sopping wet. It was December, meaning the water was freezing cold, the air crisp and dry. Sebastian – like his brother before him – had attempted to leap over the two-metre wide creek, but his foot had caught a root, causing him to fall into the stream headfirst. “I soon felt a tingling sensation all over. I knew that something very serious had just happened,” the now 30-year-old recalls. Sebastian’s body temperature fell within minutes. It dropped as low as 30 degrees. His brother found all the strength he had to drag him out of the water. Sebastian was then taken to hospital for emergency surgery.

“Like Damaged Goods…”
Twelve years have passed since the tragic winter accident and the diagnosis that came with it: a spinal cord injury at the level of the 5th cervical vertebrae. “The immediate aftermath was the worst time,” says Sebastian. He spent six long weeks in hospital before being transferred to a rehab facility. “I could no longer move 95% of my body, so I slowly – and patiently – had to learn how to eat again and how to brush my teeth independently.” It was the beginning of a completely new life that the young man struggled to come to terms with at first. “I was distracted by therapy sessions in the morning, but around midday I had to lie down to ease the strain on my skin and avoid pressure sores,” he reflects. “I just stared out of the window, listened to music, and cried a great deal. I felt like damaged goods and constantly questioned my own worth. I asked myself whether a life like this was actually worth living.” Sebastian recalls a mental carousel of hope, fear, and despair. “Accepting the situation was my greatest challenge. At some point, however, I finally succeeded in focusing my attention on the 5% of my muscles that were still functional. I reflected upon what was still possible and defined new personal goals.”

Career as Motivation
Sebastian returned to school to pass his A-levels, started structuring his days meticulously, and learned how to cope with the many restrictions of his new everyday life. “I also came to terms with the issues nobody really talks about, like the problems caused by no longer having control over bladder and bowel functions.”

Sebastian went on to study business mathematics and secured a job as a portfolio manager at a private bank after completing his master’s degree.

In 2016, he was approached by “Fördergemeinschaft der Querschnittsgelähmten”, a support organisation for people suffering from spinal cord injuries, and asked to share his story. “I was asked to inspire and encourage fellow sufferers with my own experiences. It felt a little strange in the beginning, but it worked really well very quickly.”

Sebastian opened up to the crowd. He spoke openly and honestly about his darkest hours and the arduous journey he had to endure. Even while he was still on stage he realised that his experiences could have a positive impact on others – he was in a position to help. He decided to train as a mental coach, which resulted in the foundation of his own company last year. As a coach and speaker, he now strives to draw attention to different points of view. “My clients are rarely in a wheelchair themselves. I am usually hired by entrepreneurs, or managers and their teams. How to cope with a crisis and emerge from it stronger is not necessarily associated with disability. At the end of the day, it is all about people.”

The Accompanying Book
Sebastian talks about awareness, goals, and responsibility. “In order to change – no matter in which way – it is important to abandon the victim role, define clear goals, and be proactive. One needs perspective,” he insists.

It has taken him seven years, he says, to accept himself and the new life he was dealt after his accident. “Given my personal experience, people listen to me. I am capable of triggering a reaction in them. They frequently get in touch after lectures or workshops, sometimes even weeks later, to tell me that they are still contemplating what I said.”

Sebastian has recently written a book in german about his journey. Titled “Changed Mindset”, its aim is to proverbially inspire change. “I lead a very independent life, live with my girlfriend, and am immensely grateful for the experiences I have made and can now pass on,” he emphasises. “A cure for spinal cord injuries, however, would save so much time. Not having to plan everything so far in advance and being spontaneous would return a large measure of freedom to many sufferers.”