The spinal column, otherwise known as the backbone, starts in the neck and ends in the lower back.
A major function of the backbone is to protect the spinal cord.
When this goes horribly wrong, and a serious injury occurs to someone’s spinal cord, major life changes are imminent. There are emotional and practical issues to be faced and not just for the person who has been injured.
Families need support too, as they try to deal with this life-changing situation.
“That first 10 seconds you wake up, you don’t remember what’s going on. You have your normal waking thoughts. But after that 10 seconds, it kind of dawns on you where you are, the situation you are in” said Jamie Wall.
It was his first season out of the under-21 ranks, and he entered his adult career bristling with potential.
An intermediate win propelled Cork toward the All-Ireland series. Jamie had been bothered by a slight pain in his back, but he dismissed it.Three days after that Tipperary game, he was at home in West Cork when the warning signs went off.
“I still had a little power in my legs, but I knew there was something seriously wrong” Jamie remembers.
“If you are ever going to be scared to death, absolutely petrified, it’s then.”
An infection had developed and Jamie had an abscess on his spine. Overnight, his way of life underwent a drastic change. And while he tries to get his legs better, he remains grateful for the use of his hands and is a firm believer that being negative isn’t going to help anything. But more on that later.
Since that frightening time, Jamie has been operated on at Beaumont, and attended the National Rehabilitation Hospital, where Doireann Ní Muircheartaigh, daughter of legendary GAA commentator Micheál, runs the gym.
Jamie quickly developed an approach to his situation by reminding himself daily that his goal wasn’t to get better at something, but his focus would be to get better, full stop.
Local groups quickly rallied round to support the young athlete, organising fundraising events to help with his rehabilitation. Rosscarbery Ladies Football Club recently donated the proceeds from their annual local “Jersey Shore Fun Walk” to the Jamie Wall Trust Fund.
Fundraising co-ordinator Mags O’Donohue says that despite the dreadful weather on the day, the event was a huge success.
“Jamie is a fantastic young man” she says “ One of the nicest people you could meet. And we unanimously decided to support him this year.
“The monies raised for Jamie will support his ongoing rehabilitation and his goal of living a full, independent life,” Rosscarbery club chairperson Adrian Roycroft said.
Rural communities are well-known for their support of those in difficulty, and even the economic downturn has done little to affect this generosity. And Jamie, who is from Kilbrittain, has been heartened by this support.
Along the way, Jamie met Mark Pollock, who lost his sight at 22, and in 2010, had a freak fall and became paralysed from the waist down.
He fought back, and today is helping lead the charge to investigate and fundraise for medical advances in the area of paralysis and spinal cord injury.
Jamie believes that Mark is a great role model who works as much for other people as he does for himself. It is this kind of inspiration and local support that can be a lifeline for those struggling to overcome some harsh realities. Jamie told me about what this level of support has meant for him.
“The support I’ve received from local people and organisations has meant everything to me, and of course my family who have been there for me from day one. It’s been really important, physically and emotionally.
"I don’t think of having bad days anymore. When you live in the moment, which is what I try to do now, there is something good in every day.”
What’s an average day like for you at the moment?
I’m back living at home since February, and that has taken some adjusting to after nine months in hospital.
After such a long stay, you become institutionalised to a degree. You get so used to having everything done for you and everything happening at a certain time.
So it’s been great to be at home and to have to fend for myself a bit, although I’ve always got my family there for me.
I train every day at the Elite Gym in Cork, where there’s no special treatment for anyone, no matter what their issues are. Everybody trains to their own level.
I have a small gym at home which I’ve been able to set up with the help I’ve received from fund raising activities. And I’ve recently started coaching the local under-21 team, so life is pretty full.
I’ve also taken up some sports writing.
What exactly was it that happened to you last year?
I’ve tried not to get caught up in all that because it isn’t going to make any real difference. But essentially, I had an infection on my skin which somehow got into my bloodstream.
My sister, who is a doctor, described it as an opportunistic infection. But if you dwell on all that too much, you could drive yourself mad.
I focus on living my life as fully as possible and on keeping up my physical strength. I’m 22 years old, with no dependents, so I can afford to focus on myself.
But these days I don’t accept what has happened to me, rather I acknowledge it, which is different, and I’m determined to live my life as fully as possible. I want to live a happy, independent life and who knows, perhaps walk and play again, one day in the future.
Do you have any advice for those who might be in a similar situation?
I’m very aware that what works for me, what’s right for me, might not work for someone else. Every situation is different. What is important is that people follow their own path and get to know themselves, what works for them.
I had plenty of time while I was in hospital to become very introspective, to figure out what works for me. And I am going to continue chasing recovery and work toward living an independent life.