Triathlete paralysed in bike crash and told he may not survive learns to walk again

After coming off his bike, Nathan Ford became paralysed from the neck down and was diagnosed with two life-threatening injuries. Credit: Swansea Bay University Health Board

A triathlete who was paralysed from the neck down during a race in Scotland has learnt to walk again, despite doctors saying it was "touch or go" whether he would survive.

Nathan Ford, 38, from Killay in Swansea, was competing in the British Triathlon Championships in Aberfeldy last August when he came off his bike at high speed.

Fortunately, a doctor who was also competing in the event saw and stopped to perform life-saving CPR. Nathan was taken to intensive care at Ninewells Hospital in Scotland, where he spent four weeks before being brought to intensive care in Cardiff.

He spent more than 200 days in hospital but then discharged himself to continue his recovery at home.

Thanks to the help of a rehabilitation team in Swansea, Nathan has now begun taking steps again, with the aid of a frame.

Nathan said he does not remember much from those first days in hospital in Scotland.

He said: “I don’t remember anything from the accident, and I was put into a coma when I got to hospital. The first part of my stay was a bit of a blur, because of all the medication I was on.

“I remember speaking to my family but I was so heavily on morphine I do not recall much about it."

Nathan was diagnosed with two life-threatening injuries; a spinal injury and a brain injury, although the latter was not as severe as initially thought.

He had to have a metal plate put in his neck but this ended up slipping and required another operation to stabilise the fractures in his neck. The 38-year-old then had to wear a 'halo' neck brace for 14 weeks.

Nathan thanked his wife Catrin for her pivotal role in supporting him in his recovery, saying, "I owe her everything". Credit: Swansea Bay University Health Board

Back in Cardiff, Nathan began his physiotherapy but discharged himself after more than 200 days in hospital.

He remembered how consultants originally told his family that "it was touch or go whether [he] would survive or not". Nathan said he has defied expectations.

“I am making good progress, although it is very small steps," he said.

"Initially I was told I would barely be able to move my legs, and I was told I would be on a ventilator for the rest of my life, and I would not be an independent person again.

"I was also told if I had not been as fit as I was, I would not have survived. I was in the best shape of my life and I’ve got the triathlon to thank for that. It has allowed me to make progress, mentally as well."

Nathan had a tracheostomy which allowed him to breath independently and has started taking steps with the aid of a frame, as his rehabilitation continues. 

The 38-year-old thanked the medical staff who helped him following his accident.

He said: "I've been back to the hospital to see everyone who helped me, and it was emotional and humbling. They will never truly understand just how thankful I am because they were 'just doing their job'.

"I literally owe them my life, along with everyone else involved."

He added: "Without my wife Catrin by my side there is no way I could have done what I have. I owe her everything, she is so supportive in everything I do."