A spinal injury can be life changing and can affect anyone. The harsh reality of the spine is that although it is super strong (the essence that keeps us upright) it is very delicate.

One type of spinal injury is a spinal stroke, which is a disruption in the blood supply to the spinal cord. The spinal cord depends on a supply of blood to function properly. A disruption in the blood supply can cause injury or damage to tissues and can block nervous impulses travelling along the spinal cord. Although rare (they account for 1.25% of all strokes) the effects of this can lead to symptoms such as paralysis, change in sensation and feeling and loss of control of the bladder and bowel. These symptoms usually appear suddenly, over a matter of hours or even minutes.

This can affect anyone, no matter how fit or unfit the individual is. I recently learnt that Olympic rowing champion Pete Reed suffered from a spinal stroke, and his story really highlights the impact of a spinal injury.

Pete Reed is a three time Olympic rowing champion. Three times! Just let that sink in for a moment and let this help you understand how physically fit he is. In his own words, this 6f 6in champion was a “physical specimen” and is known to have the largest ever recorded lung capacity. He is also a Ranked Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy. In other words, Pete Reed is physically fit beyond belief.

Pete Reed unfortunately suffered a spinal stroke which has completely changed his life. The effect of the spinal stroke has left him paralysed from chest down, and he is now a wheelchair user. He describes the “grim realities” of changes to his bladder care, bowel care, digestion and skin care and how they now affect him. He is facing a physical and mental battle but in the true mind of a champion, he is treating this as another challenge and the aim of walking again is a bigger motivation than anything he has faced before.

If you take anything from this blog, please let it be this; no matter how fit or conditioned we are, the body is just as delicate as it is strong. As rare as a spinal stroke is (remember, they only account for 1.25% of all strokes) be cautious if you ever feel any of the above symptoms.