Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Miracle Man

When BA pilot James Heather fell head-first onto a marble floor, doctors feared he would die and then never walk or talk again. But twelve years on, James has managed to rebuild his life by learning to do everything again. He told his inspirational tale to ADAM COURTNEY.
James Heather
'Walking miracle' is an often used cliché, but never has it been more apt then when describing Fulham man James Heather.
He shouldn't even be alive, let alone be able to walk and talk, after an accident in a Paris hotel left his brain so crushed that doctors were forced to remove part of his skull and store it in his abdomen to keep the bone marrow healthy.
But in an inspirational tale of determination and defiance of medical opinion, James has rebuilt his life and now, amazingly, takes an active role as a volunteer fundraiser with the Hammersmith and Fulham Action on Disability (HAFAD).
Now 38, James was a first officer for BA when the accident happened on December 28, 2002. Thinking he was on the ground floor of the hotel, he jumped over a bannister unaware of an 18ft drop on to a marble floor and fell on to it head-first.
Skin and hair was all that separated his brain from the open air for three months after his skull was removed to ease swelling on his brain. He was in a coma for six weeks and didn't leave France until his skull was reattached.
"My parents were preparing for the worst," he says. "The doctors told them I might not make it through the night and then that I'd never leave a wheelchair.
"And when I did wake up I was basically a baby again, I had to learn to do everything again."
At the time of the accident, James was the archetypal pilot: suave, charming and with an eye for the ladies.
A love of the good life was one of the main reasons he left a career in recruitment, and it didn't him long to develop a fondness for BA's social scene.
"It was never a major ambition to be a pilot but I could fly before I could drive, which was always a good chat up line for the girls.
"The hours weren't great but I got to go to all these great cities and I loved it. I was quite charming and used to enjoy going out with the stewardesses."
It was this extroverted streak that would ultimately change his life forever. He'd flown to Paris in the afternoon with a friend in the jumpseat and, not due to return to Heathrow until the following day, arranged a night out with two stewardesses.
As the foursome went to leave their hotel for dinner, James, thinking they were on the ground floor, decided to jump over a bannister to, in his words, show off.
After the months in hospital in Paris, there was nearly a year in Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow and the Haberdashers House at the Royal Hospital of Neuro Disability in Putney, before he finally returned home in June 2004.
His progress since then has been relentless and truly inspirational.  In January 2011, hours of rehabilitation have allowed him to walk almost normally, and, while his speech is a bit quiet yet understandable, and his memory slightly erratic, he is able to hold good conversation and is almost totally independent.
Amazingly, he has even taken to the skies again in a propellered plane and controlled the landing.
His quest to improve will not stop and he refuses to put a limit on what he can achieve.
"Thankfully my parents never told me what the doctors said, and I try not to listen to medics now because of that.
"I remember taking my first steps: I stumbled like I was drunk and only walked about three metres but it was an amazing feeling and ever since then I've thought the sky is the limit.
"There are a lot of things I want to improve on – I can't really crack jokes because I can't talk quickly enough and I'd like to be able to carry things with my right hand while I'm walking, especially on the stairs, and to drink while I'm on the move. Also it's difficult for me to talk in a group when there is background noise.
"It is hard but it's getting less and less so."
The lack of bitterness or regret from James is extraordinary. There's no hankering after his former life, no railing at the cruelty of it all; just an unwavering determination to live the second half of his existence as a better person.
"I'm so much more chilled out now. Before, everything had to be done ASAP and I was inconsiderate. I guess I was always positive but I probably made people who I didn't like feel pretty insignificant.
"I don't miss what I had because I'm not trying to be that person anymore. I've just got a lust for life again because I was so close to losing it."
His attitude has been shaped significantly by HAFAD and he is now returning the favour by supporting colleague James Coke in his loyalty card project.
They hope the card will help raise awareness and improve access for the disabled in H&F, while giving discounts to members and trade to business. James has helped lobby more than 270 firms to join the scheme in Fulham alone.
"HAFAD has helped me a lot, it's somewhere safe, productive and positive for disabled people to go and we hope this card can make a massive difference."

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

my accident and recovery

Sun newspaper

Health Editor
A British Airways pilot who suffered deadly head injuries in an accident was saved by an amazing op where surgeons put his skull in his stomach.

James Heather, 26, had leapt over a banister in a Paris hotel thinking the floor was the same height the other side - but fell 18 feet onto solid marble.

He was taken to hospital with a smashed right side of his head, a broken elbow and a pierced lung.
Doctors thought there was nothing they could do for him as his brain was swelling rapidly - and told his parents so in an emotional phone conversation.

But they decided to operate to relieve the pressure on his brain by cutting away a 4 by 4 inch piece of his skull on the left side.

They then opened him up and delicately placed the skull in the lining of his stomach - necessary to keep the bone marrow inside alive.

When parents Sue and Rod arrived at the hospital after driving through the night from London they expected him to be dead - but found him recovering from the op.

The radical surgery - on the left hand side of his body - is called a hemicraniectomy.
James was in a coma for six weeks, and six weeks after that he was well enough for the skull to be reattached.
Gradually he began recovering and was sent back to a series of hospitals in the UK.
He was told he would never walk again.
But he spent just nine months in a wheelchair
Since the accident, thanks to great determination, he has re-learnt to talk, walk, eat, drive and a host of everyday tasks.

He was helped by living at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability’s Transitional Living unit in Putney, south west London for six months.

Daredevil James, was very active previously - sky diving, rafting and sailing were hobbies.
The night of the accident he had flown into Paris for BA and was having a stop-over staying with cabin crew.
He said: "I was in high spirits. I hopped over the banister on the first floor.
“It was just unfortunate. I was on the wrong level - it was a split second. Then I was unconscious.
“Luckily the hotel receptionist was also a nurse.
“At the hospital they took a big piece of my skull and put it in my stomach lining to keep it alive.
“The skin was replaced over my head but my mum said you could still see my brain move under my skin and hair.
“I was in a coma so I didn't know what was going on. When I came round I couldn't feel it.
“Afterwards everything people take for granted I had to learn again.
“I just got on day by day.”
James, now 33, from Chester, was supported by girlfriend Sarah James who flew to his side immediately, and other good friends.

It was Sarah who helped him walk for the first time. They parted in 2004 year after three years together, but remain on very good terms.

James started work on 1/06 two days a week as a fundraiser for a local disability action group, HAFAD (Hammersmith and Fulham action on Disability).
Before the accident, he had wanted to do was be a pilot. He could fly before he learned to drive.
But now he said he does not miss flying.
“Before my accident I never really had time for anything. I was always rushing around, working, drinking generally doing the kind of thing that many men my age do.

“It never occurred to me that I could hurt myself so seriously by doing something so casual but looking back it seems pretty obvious.

“Since my accident I take more time with everything. I have had to readjust my life because of it but now I take care with the things I’m doing, and more thoughtful and planned and due to that I think I’m happier than I have ever been.”

He’s now supporting the Royal Hospital’s Love Your Brain week to raise awareness of injuries like his.
He said: “The brain injury I suffered is more common than people think, and can be devastating.”
His next ambitions are to master more skills, be able to jog for 20 minutes non stop and swim properly.
Mum Susan said she is overjoyed by his progress.
She said: “He’s a much happier person. To see him like this is absolutely brilliant.”