UK news Dancer paralysed after freak wild swimming accident in the River Cam last minute news
MetiNews.Com - The 21-year-old dived into the water to retrieve a frisbee during a party to celebrate his fiancée's birthday
Breaking News ! A 21-year-old dancer has been left paralysed from the chest down after a freak wild swimming accident in the River Cam. Alex Collins was celebrating his wife-to-be Sophie Howse’s 23rd birthday on June 16 with a barbecue and game of frisbee in his hometown, Cambridge, when his life changed in an instant. When the flying disc landed in the River Cam, he dived in head-first to retrieve it – without realising how shallow the water was – and broke his neck. Despite emergency surgery at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, he has been left paralysed from the chest down. With a long recovery period ahead of him, he has been told there is no guarantee his mobility will improve – but he has vowed not to give up on his dream of walking down the aisle to wed marry fellow dancer Sophie. Alex, who hopes his story will serve as a cautionary tale to Brits wanting to cool off by wild swimming, said: “I hope I can highlight the importance of thinking before swimming.” Alex is still recovering. (Image: PA) He continued: “I’m not going to tell everybody to stop wild swimming – it’s a marvellous way to calm down in the warmer months – but please think before diving right in, especially if you don’t know the depth. “Right now, I can only move my head, neck and part of my arms. Doctors have told me it will be two years before we know how well my body will recover. “Until I’m told otherwise, for me that means getting back to full health – the alternative just isn’t an option.” He continued: “Sophie and I have made a pact that we won’t get married until we can both stand at the altar, so right now that’s the ultimate goal for both of us.” Brought together by their shared passion, Alex and Sophie met in September 2016, when they enrolled on the same three-year diploma course in professional dance at Bodywork Company. Although he was instantly taken by her, he did not pluck up the courage to speak to her until December 2017, when he asked her to be his partner for a pas de deux – a ballet duet. “I saw her as one of the cool kids at first and was too intimidated to ask her out,” he laughed. “Eventually I decided to use the so-called Strictly Come Dancing curse to my advantage – figuring that dance partners always end up falling for each other – and asked her to be mine.” Alex with his fiancée. (Image: PA) After Sophie happily accepted Alex’s offer, the couple began rehearsing together for three to six hours per week. And it was clear there was a spark between them, with the pair becoming an official couple in January 2018. Alex continued: “We got to know each other really well. We must have laughed more than we danced. We had a real connection.” In March 2018, the pair made their stage debut together at London’s MOVE IT festival – a three-day dance event held at the Excel convention centre – performing their pas de duex in front of thousands. “That was a real highlight of the year for us,” he added. Their relationship going from strength to strength, they moved in together in Cambridge in September 2018, at the start of their final year. Then, in April 2019, after landing a job as a performer on a Mediterranean cruise ship, Alex finished his studies early before flying out to Venice, Italy. Sophie had not expected to see him again until the end of August – when the cruise gig ended – but, ever the romantic, he secretly flew home to surprise her at her graduation in July. “I’d been expected to miss our graduation, but I flew back from Italy without Sophie knowing,” he said. “I jumped out of a box on stage during a performance.” They met in a dance class. (Image: PA) He continued: “One of the members of staff at the college helped orchestrate it over a few text messages. “I already knew the show from past rehearsals – all I had to do on the day was hide in the box, then jump out. It was easy to make it happen. “Sophie looked utterly stunned, then broke down in tears.” The pair made the most of their time together before their graduation ball the following day – with Alex sneaking off into town for an extra special purchase. He continued: “We barely had 24 hours together, so Sophie wasn’t best pleased when I told her I had to run an errand on my own. “She kept asking what it was, so in the end I told her it was a surprise.” He continued: “The next day at the ball, just before the fireworks went off, I asked her to marry me. It was a pretty special moment.” The following morning, Alex flew to Malta to reboard the cruise ship, before reuniting with Sophie for good back in the UK six weeks later, at the end of August. For the rest of 2019, the couple took on several performance jobs, including a month-long stint in a production of Cinderella and various roles at the Potters Theatre Company Cambridge. Planning to spend a year travelling the world while working on cruise ships together, their future looked bright. “We had barely graduated and had our sights set on so much,” Alex said. But in June this year, life changed forever for the young couple. For Sophie’s birthday on June 15, Alex made a makeshift cinema in their back garden using a projector and some fabric. Then, the following day, the pair had a socially-distanced barbecue in a meadow next to the River Cam with some friends. He recalled: “We had some takeaway beer and someone suggested playing frisbee.” He continued: “Not long into the game, the frisbee landed in the water.
.’ “So, I ran up to the river and dived right in. The next thing I knew I was face down in the water and unable to move. My head was full of white noise. “I manage to flap my head up and down and my friend realised something wasn’t right but had no idea I’d broken my neck.” Leaping into action, Alex’s friend – along with a passer-by who had seen the drama unfold – raced to the river and pulled him out of the water. He added: “It all gets hazy from there. I remember being surrounded by paramedics and Sophie being by my side in the ambulance. “Bless Sophie, she’s not the best in an emergency, and I know she had a lot of sleepless nights after the ordeal.” He continued: “But it’s a testament to her, that she stayed by my side.” From there, Alex was raced to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, where a CT and MRI scan revealed that he had broken the C5 vertebra in his neck, which supports the skull, enables head movements and protects the spinal cord. Less than 12 hours later, he was on the operating table, having the damaged vertebra replaced with part of his right hip bone, which was then fused to three other vertebrae with a metal plate. “After I came round, doctors told me that they had done their best to stabilise my spine and take pressure off my spinal cord,” he explained. “They could see how much damage had been done from the break and said it would be a waiting game to see how much I recover. “I didn’t know how to deal with it, so instead focused on making sure Sophie was better.” He continued: “She was utterly devastated and just couldn’t understand how it happened. “For the first couple of days she could hardly speak. “From the very first conversation I told her if she wanted to move on, I would understand, but she said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, I’m in this for the long run.’” It the beginning of August, after 18 days at Addenbrooke’s recovering from surgery, Alex was transferred to Buckinghamshire’s Stoke Mandeville Hospital – one of the largest specialist spinal injury units in the world, and the birthplace of the Paralympic Games – where he remains today. “I have every type of therapy you could hope for here,” he said. “Intensive therapy, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy – you name it. “Sophie’s allowed to see me for three hours, once a week – that’s always the highlight of the week that I look forward to.” Since then, Alex has been relearning basic tasks such as brushing his teeth, shaving and manoeuvring his wheelchair. “Basically, I can groom myself, which I’m sure Sophie is very pleased about,” he continued. “I can feel sensation in my feet, the back of my legs and chest – I just can’t move them.” He continued: “I like to think of the rest of my body as dormant, rather than paralysed.” Expected to remain at Stoke Mandeville until December, at the earliest, Alex has vowed to stay positive. He added: “When I tell people I’ll be in here until Christmas, they expect me to be upset or frustrated.” He continued: “But the way I look at it, I’m in one of the most advanced rehabilitation units in the country – I’ll happily stay here as long as possible.” Equally determined to aid Alex’s recovery, Sophie has set up a GoFundMe page, which aims to raise £50,000 to cover the costs of his post-hospital care, including adaptations to their home, private physiotherapy sessions and specialist equipment. Raising £5,000 so far, Alex said: “We’d love to be able to get a FES bike. They help people with little or no leg function to exercise their muscles, stimulate circulation and strengthen their bones.” He continued: “That’s the biggest cost at the moment, at roughly £11,000, but there’s so much other stuff we have to consider down the line, too.” One of the main focal points for getting Alex through his recovery is his wedding. Although the couple have not set a date, they hope to tie the knot in 2022, in either France or Italy. He also remains hopeful that he will one day be able to dance on stage with Sophie again. He concluded: “Never say never. I don’t want to dampen any belief in myself at this point. “I have to keep going, there’s no other choice. Performing is my one true passion.” And Sophie is committed to helping her fiancé every step of the way. She said “The GoFundMe is so important to me because Alex deserves every opportunity to gain as much of his life back as possible. “It’s so important to me that we don’t let money be an influencing factor in how much of a recovery Alex makes.” She concluded: “To him this is his whole life, but to others it’s missing a couple of their weekly coffees to help out someone incredible.” To donate to Alex’s GoFundMe page, visit www.gofundme.com/f/get-alex-walking-again.