Engineer gives thanks as SSAFA helps him recover after surfing accident

26 February 2024

Stuart Bailey served in the Royal Navy for 22 years as a Chief Petty Officer Marine Engineering Artificer, before he left in 2009. While surfing in Polzeath in May 2022, he suffered a serious surfing accident that left him in a coma for two weeks. When he regained consciousness, he found that he also suffered significant spinal damage that led to paralysis.

Speaking of the accident, Stuart said: “I suffered an incomplete spinal injury in the region between the fourth and sixth cervical vertebrae. I also experienced a cardiac arrest and partial drowning. Despite not having any fractures, the intense trauma left me paralysed from the neck down, and unable to breathe by myself.”

Stuart needed a tracheostomy to breathe for most of his hospital stay and used a ventilator for five weeks. After that he went to a neurological rehab centre in Hayle to continue his progress, as well as the specialist spinal unit in Salisbury, where he was in recovery for eight months.

He added: “Almost 2 years on from the accident, the simplest of tasks take immense effort and concentration. To stand up, there's a sequence of actions that I must focus on to engage my core and leg muscles. I am confident that in time, it will become second nature again.”

SSAFA has helped Stuart get funding so his home could be refitted. He had a bathroom changed into a wet room, and the addition of a stairlift enabled him to go upstairs again. He has regained his independence with just the adaptations to his home, and getting his bodily autonomy back has helped get his routine back to normal. In a recent interview he was keen to tell the volunteers at the Cornwall branch of SSAFA how much they’ve helped him get his life back on track.

SSAFA organised the funding. You know, they spoke to a lot of other charities, you know each, each one put in an amount into a fund that Trish [Stuart’s caseworker] organised. I've got to say a massive thank you to Trish. She has just been an absolute star from start to finish.”

Stuart is at home in Launceston, making slow but steady progress every day. He does physiotherapy once a week as well as hydrotherapy in a swimming pool. Alongside the things he does at home, he is resilient and optimistic about his recovery.

I've always been positive. You know, even when I, you know, I couldn't move anything. The hardest thing about being paralysed is you forget. I forgot how to do things… standing up and all the complex signals that your brain needs to give for that process to do the things that people do without thinking because I've been doing all my life.”

Stuart concluded, saying: “I can't thank SSAFA and my caseworker enough for the help that they gave me and also for people to realise that there is help out there. And should you need it, you know… it’s just great to know that that it is there.”

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