Man paralysed on lads holiday has heartbreaking regret from time before accident

Man paralysed on lads holiday has heartbreaking regret from time before accident


At 17 Henry Fraser has everything to look forward to – he was the perfect student, a great sportsman and was about to start his final year of school.

But in a split second, everything changed when he was paralysed from the shoulders down.

Now, he can only move his face and neck – but that hasn't stopped him from reaching the pinnacle of his new passion – art.

Now 27 – and still unable to move anything below his shoulders – Henry says the 10 years since the accident have been among the "best of my life".

And he has won an army of fans with his amazing paintings, including JK Rowling and his childhood hero, Jonny Wilkinson.

His stunning paintings are all created without the use of his hands and arms and are incredibly intricate.

Here is his amazing story…

Henry couldn't wait for a sunshine holiday with his friends but right from the very start, it was a disaster.

First, he discovered his passport was two months past its expiry date when he arrived at the airport to board the flight.

Henry had to head straight to Liverpool to get a new passport and then shell out another £200 to join the rest of his pals on holiday.

But on the fifth day of his break, a mundane swim in the sea tore his world apart.

Henry, a former academy player at rugby union team, Saracens, said: "All I did was run off the beach and dived into the sea. I remember banging my head on the seabed, I clearly misjudged my dive.

"I opened my eyes to find I was face down, floating in the sea with my arms hanging lifeless in front of me. not being able to move anything from my neck down.

"Never in my life have I been so scared of anything until that moment when I was surrounded by the silence of the sea piercing my ears, utterly helpless, thinking this was it, what am I meant to do to save myself."

Thankfully, one of Henry's friends was close by and dragged him to the beach.

Waiting on the sand were two ex-rugby coaches who had first aid training and tried to get him to stay calm.

Heartbreakingly, one of Henry's first thoughts was not for himself but for his friends and the holiday he felt he had ruined.

He was taken to hospital by ambulance and then airlifted to a bigger hospital in Lisbon, Portugal.

X-Rays were taken and medics put5 screws into each side of Henry's head so a pulley system could be attached with weights hanging off it.

He had severely dislocated his neck and doctors hoped the weights would stretch his neck back into place.

But there was a problem – because he had been such an accomplished sports man, Henry, from Hertfordshire, had too much muscle in his back and neck and the weights had no impact.

By now, Henry's parents had flown to Portugal and were keeping a 24 hour vigil by his bedside.

The 17-year-old first contracted pneumonia and then MRSA but there was more bad news to come.

Henry was also suffering from heart failure and had to have a pacemaker fitted to tryto regulate his heart beat.

He said: "A mixture of the illnesses and sheer panic of my situation meant that I nearly never slept as the pain and fear were all too much and it was at this time that I had many dark thoughts running through my head but when I look back at it I regret ever thinking that way."

Two operations followed to wire his spine back into alignment and he was finally able to fly home to the UK.

Henry said: "My time in Portugal is in memory that will stick with me for the rest of my life, as was a time when I was told my spinal cord had been totally severed and my condition would not improve from then, but I can look back now and see that that was one of the things that drove me on through everything.

"It was also the most emotional time of my life and I would not have been able to get through it if I did not have my parents there by my side or without a couple of cards sent to me by the families of the boys who were with me on holiday."

Henry's first memories of being back in the UK were the black ceiling of the intensive care unit that would be his home for the next few weeks.

He suffered several brutal flare ups of MRSA and every time he was due to be moved to the acute ward, seemed to suffer another set back.

Henry admits the night times were the worst as he couldn't stop his thoughts and experienced unnerving dreams.

Once again surrounded by his family, with his brother visiting every weekend after studying at university, Henry was finally moved out of ICU two weeks later.

On the acute ward he also finally had a window and could see daylight for the first time in weeks.

Henry said: "We could open a window and let fresh air into the room, it felt so great. I could finally breath it in, as much as I could whilst still being on a ventilator."

And then came a real moment of progression, Henry's feeding tube was removed and he was able to eat some pureed food.

Determined to get out of hospital as soon as possible, he also started chest physio so his ventilator could be removed.

But there was one final hurdle the teenager had not had to face – he hadn't seen how he now looked.

Previously, sports mad and super fit, Henry was ripped and healthy.

He said: "My physio got me in the chair with my oxygen tank attached to my tracheostomy.

"As I had not sat up properly in so long all the blood would rush to my legs making me extremely dizzy and hard to stay awake.

"Once I had been adjusted my physio took me around the hospital with my mum and a friend of hers who was visiting.

"Mum had a go at driving and it ended being like a game of bumper cars, with the walls.

"It was great to be up and around and see parts of the hospital I had heard spoken about but not seen. It was great.

"That was until we went outside and were about to go through the entrance.

"The main entrance consisted of two giant glass doors and I could finally see myself for the first time in nearly two months.

"But what I saw was not me. It was a razor thin young man that looked lost in his bulky wheelchair.

"There was a tube in his throat that helped him breathe and he could not move a thing.

"I had to take a double look to make sure it was me. I had lost nearly four stone in weight."

It was then that the enormity of what had happened hit Henry and he broke down.

He said: "After my mum’s friends had left, my mum and I headed back to my room. It was at this point that everything hit me. I just broke down.

"The reality of how the rest of my life would be had been shown to me in that reflection.

"I was just crying into my mum's comforting shoulder, just wanting to be able to hug her. The rest of my day was tough and I was in no mood for visitors.

"When my dad took my mum to her car that night the days events hit me once more.

"I broke again, with uncontrollable tears saying over and over ‘Why me? Why me?’.

"I was still going when my dad returned and it was on my dad’s comforting shoulder that I cried this time, just wanting to hug him."

Devastating as this time was, it was also a turning point for Henry and he knew it would take all his strength to make sure his life was as fulfiling as possible.

He said: "It was a day I needed and a chance for me to let go of what was a lot of built up emotions.

"Once my dad had left I was lying awake in bed until the early hours, not even my sleeping pills could send me off this time.

"It was at this point that I thought to myself, ‘there is no point being sad or angry, I have no one to blame for what has happened. I may as well just get on with it'.

"For me, that day gave me what I needed to really push on."

Still only 17, he was moved to the paediatric ward and his discharge day – February 10, 2010 – was decided.

But Henry had one final thing he wanted to achieve before he left hospital – he wanted to be able to push himself out in a wheelchair.

He said: "Personally, going into the electric chair for me was giving up when I knew I could do more.

"It did not go down well with the hospital, but deep down I knew I could do it and I knew what I wanted."

He worked incredibly hard with the physios and on the day of his discharge, Henry achieved his dream – with a few hiccups.

He said: "I needed to show everyone there, prove to them, that it could be done. I achieved that goal.

"The best way to show them it could be done was to push myself out of the hospital. So the day I left that’s exactly what I did, it was the best message I could send.

"That was until I reached a small slope and my lack of arm control meant I rolled straight in the middle of the car park.

"It took a bit of shine off the situation, but I think I got my message across."

It was when he was back at home and "bored out his my mind" that he developed his new passion for art.

He used an iPad and a stick in his mouth to scrawl through apps that interested him and came across one for art.

His family helped build a special easel and his first drawing was of golf superstar Rory McIlroy.

And he hasn't stopped since.

Not only that, 13 months after the accident that could have ruined his life, Henry went back to school and finished his A-levels.

Then came a job offer from Saracens, where he had been a player, and he is now an accomplished public speaker.

He has even appeared on the Jonathan Ross show after publishing a book abut his experience.

A stunning painting – one of his own – of him in his wheelchair staring out at sea is on the front cover. It's a moving message of hope.

Henry said: "There were so many moments before my accident that I took for granted.

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