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Woman paralysed from the neck down becomes a fitness instructor

A former ambulancewoman who used to be mostly paralysed from the neck down is now a fitness instructor for others who have a disability.

Wendy Hall fell down a staircase and broke her neck while with West Midlands Ambulance Service.

Credit: BPM Media

The future looked bleak but the 40-year-old keep fit fan wasn’t about to accept that.

Wendy, however, still works for the ambulance service but is now in the control centre. She recalls wanting to work with the road safety team, she was out shadowing a paramedic.

Credit: BPM Media

I was at a patient’s house when the accident happened. My injury was harrowing.

It looked like my head had been cut off. An MRI scan confirmed the worst. My neck was severed.

I blacked out and fell down the stairs. It was later discovered that I have Vasovagal syncope, a condition which means if there is a small change in temperature, I feel like I’m having a heart attack and can black out. At the time I didn’t know I had it.

It came on very quickly and I blacked out altogether, falling down the stairs. The way I fell was like my head had snapped off.

It was the worst thing to happen but I was in the best place because I was with the paramedic, who could tend to me.

My MRI scan showed the severage just above the shoulders.

The damage left my bone shattered and as a result I have a bone graft from my hip and a metal plate the size of a credit card just below my Adam’s Apple.

But I had something and to me, that was better than nothing – I’m not the sort of person to be sitting still. I never stopped to think, ‘I can’t’. It was all about, ‘How I can do it.’

The hard part was coming home after spending so long in hospital. Sometimes I didn’t want to get out of bed.

There were times where I wanted to give up and not bother at all – but I kept myself going and did what I could.

– Wendy Hall
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That was eight years ago, and her recovery has been remarkable. Medics believe it is partly due to the fact that she was so fit before the fall.

Looking back, she says she's been very lucky to get feeling and movement back considering the level and severity of her injury.

The doctors say it was in part due to my previous physical condition. I’d always been a gym enthusiast, doing weights, circuits and spin regularly.

I also taught step and aerobics so I was very determined to walk again.

Even in those depressing months of lying in hospital, staring at the ceiling and not being able to move, my body was working hard, resting and recovering. All I could think about was how I was going to get back in the gym?

– Wendy Hall
Credit: BPM Media

Today, Wendy is Sandwell Leisure Trust’s first-ever disabled fitness instructor. She takes her class, “Wendy’s Wednesdays”, at Portway Lifestyle Centre in Oldbury, for both disabled and able-bodied people, including one-to-one sessions.

Now, to look at me. You would just think I have a bad leg. My left side is still affected and my hand is closed. I walk with a stick and have a wheelchair for long distances.

– Wendy Hall

Once Wendy was able to get out and about in her wheelchair after the accident she visited several local gyms but faced barriers because of her disability.

She decided that, by becoming an instructor, she would be able to help others in similar situations to herself.

Wendy started volunteering at Portway and then continued her quest to become an instructor.

Wendy is such an inspiration. What she has helped build at Portway is highly commendable. She has certainly opened our eyes to what is possible here.

Groups of people exercising together, who have previously experienced barriers to participation, are now breaking those barriers down and then some.

– Portway’s fitness co-ordinator Kevin Daly