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I'm doing charity swim despite being paralysed
IT WAS the journey that would change Jan Crispin’s life forever.
She and her partner were driving home to Hampshire from her father’s funeral in Cornwall when she rounded a bend to find a car coming towards her on the wrong side of the road.
She tried to avoid it but they collided, sending her car spinning off the road and landing on its side. Jan’s neck was broken.
She was cut out of the wreck and airlifted to hospital where surgeons operated immediately.
She was in too much shock to take in what had happened. But her life – and those of her partner and family – had changed forever.
Three years on since that June day in 2010, Jan is a happy, upbeat 52-year-old, who doesn’t talk about what she has lost, but what she has.
She had feared she would be completely paralysed from the neck down.
“Every time I came round after the operation I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t move anything except my head and had to work out what had happened,” she says.
“I felt like a broken doll that had been thrown on the floor.”
The worst time for her was being in hospital on a ventilator, unable to move, with tubes down her nose and throat.
But her eyes light up as she remembers realising first that she could move her shoulders and later that she had some movement in her arms. And she laughs at the memory of ‘shoulder dancing’ in her intensive care bed with her nurse to the radio.
Jan was moved from hospital in Exeter to Winchester where physio began to try to get her moving again.
“When I started to be able to move my arms I was absolutely delighted,” she says. “It was very slow progress, but being able to move my arms was amazing.”
Jan was in intensive care for a long time and almost lost her life on more than one occasion, including when she developed pneumonia.
She regained some use of her arms, but has no movement or sensation in her hands or her body below her armpits.
Today she and Lynn, her partner of 19 years, live in a new house in Winchester that they had specially adapted. It has wooden floors for her wheelchair, a lift and a room with kitchen and bathroom for the carers who are with her round the clock.
But it would be hard to imagine a more upbeat, positive person to be around. She is quick to laugh and talks with such delight about all the things that she can do, from being able to breathe without the help of a ventilator through brushing her teeth to going swimming, that it’s easy to forget how many things she can’t do now.
“I’ve always been quite a positive person,” says the former Civil Service human resources manager.
“It would be easy to say ‘why me?’, but I have to say ‘why not me?’. There are accidents every day. Life deals you whatever hand you are going to get and you’ve got to make the most of it.
“I’ve got plenty of years ahead of me and I want to live life to the full. There’s absolutely no point in thinking ‘if only I could do this’ or ‘I used to do that’.”
Jan was medically retired from work but hopes that she may be able to do voluntary work in the future. But at the moment her time is largely taken up with rehabilitating her body.
Doctors have told her that she isn’t likely to get any more function back, meaning that parts of her body that are paralysed or without sensation – her hands and body below her shoulders – won’t start working again. But she is working hard to improve the strength and ability in the parts of her body that she can move, as well as keeping healthy by using equipment such as a standing frame and electrodes on her legs to work her muscles.
And she has recently taken on a huge physical challenge – of swimming over a mile for charity.
It’s no small feat for someone whose only movement is limited use of her arms. But she is determined.
Jan started hydrotherapy when she was in hospital, but recently started going to a pool at LB Healthcare in Whiteley that was slightly longer and began swimming. She skulls on her back and loves the feeling of freedom that being in the water brings.
“One week I did 120 lengths and when I came out, I asked the receptionist how long the pool was.
She told me and said ‘are you thinking about doing a sponsored swim?’ and said they would help me with the publicity.
“I wasn’t sure but I was talking with some friends about it over supper and one said ‘well, we’ll sponsor you £250,’ and I said ‘that’s it, I’m definitely doing it!.”
It was only three weeks ago that Jan decided to take on the challenge of swimming 200 lengths of the pool, but already she has had to raise her fundraising target twice, because it has been hit. She is now well on her way to hitting her new target of £3,000, for the Southern Spinal Injuries Trust.
So far she can swim 160 lengths at a time, so she admits she is a bit anxious but is determined to reach her goal.
“My life now isn’t anything like I imagined it being, but it could be so much worse,” she says.
“I don’t get frustrated about the things I can’t do. What’s the point in wasting energy? I’ve just got to do what I can do and direct my energy into something useful.”
To support Jan’s fundraising swim, visit virginmoneygiving.com/jancrispin.
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