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By JACQUI THORNTON
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
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
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
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