Arfon Hardy sustained a life changing spinal cord injury as the result of complications of laminectomy surgery. Although a laminectomy is a common surgery, it is a major surgery with significant risks and potential complications.

Prior to his injury, Arfon had had a successful career in catering in the merchant navy. He enjoyed his job and loved being able to travel the world.

During surgery Arfon suffered a spinal cord stroke, resulting in paralysis from below the waist. This case study, written in July 2021, provides an account of his rehabilitation journey so far and his hopes for the future.

Spinal Surgery resulting in Spinal Cord Injury

Arfon was aged 52 when he visited his GP in the summer of 2017 complaining of tingling in his toes and weakness in his legs. He had in fact visited his GP two years previously with the same symptoms, but rather than carrying out further investigations, he was sent home with painkillers. This time however, Arfon’s GP was concerned that his symptoms were persisting and therefore arranged for him to have blood tests and an MRI scan.

Later the same day, Arfon attended a pre-arranged physio appointment, during which his physio was alarmed by his condition and suggested he urgently went to his local hospital for an immediate MRI scan. Arfon went straight to Walton Centre, North Wales where an MRI scan was conducted which revealed he was suffering from a compression on the spine. The hospital therefore scheduled him in for a laminectomy to remove part of the vertebral bone and ease the pressure.

This was done quickly, and three days after his MRI scan Arfon underwent spinal cord decompression surgery and a discectomy (removal of disc). He spent 8 hours in recovery, rather than the expected 2.5 hours. At this stage, Arfon assumed that the surgery had been a success – though he was aware that he could not feel his legs, and felt no pain, but assumed that this was normal following spinal surgery.

It was only the next day, when he was visited by the surgeon, that Arfon learnt the true extent of his condition and that damage caused to his spine during the operation had left him paralysed from the waist down.

Arfon spent 5 weeks at the Walton Centre, before being transferred to Southport to recover. During this time, he sadly suffered additional medical problems including a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung), recurrent urinary tract infections and associated sepsis, and discitis (spinal disc infection and inflammation).

Spinal fixation surgery

In December 2017, 6 months after the initial surgery, Arfon underwent spinal fixation surgery, surviving heart attacks during the operation.

He returned to Southport to recover, and in September 2018, 15 months after being first admitted to hospital, Arfon, a self-confessed adrenaline junkie, arranged to go hang gliding with a group of friends. This was made possible by Judy Leden, who has been the women’s world hang gliding champion twice and flies paragliders, microlights and light aircraft.

In October 2018, the hospital suggested Arfon look for a care home to stay in. Fortunately, he was able to find a suitable rental property in Mold, Flintshire which has been adapted to make it fully accessible for him.

Back at home, Arfon continued to suffer from infections and also sustained further injuries in an accident on his hybrid bike. He was taken to Wrexham hospital following the accident, where he was diagnosed with broken ribs, internal bleeding, and a perforated bowel.

He was sent to hospital in Stoke to have a stoma fitted. Unfortunately, the surgery had to be delayed for 5 days due to internal bleeding. During the surgery it became apparent that his ribs could not be screwed because of the extent of the damage from his biking accident. He was therefore transferred to the thoracic ward for 3 months to recover.

Arfon remained bed bound for 5 months, during which he suffered bed sores and numerous UTI’s.

By September 2020, Arfon was totally frustrated with his situation. He was also suffering from sepsis and, on top of all that, had contracted COVID-19. He was treated at Wrexham Maelor Hospital for 8 weeks, before being transferred to the Deeside Rainbow field hospital in North Wales. Arfon was the first patient to be admitted to the hospital that was built to boost capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spinal Injuries Solicitors

Arfon contacted Ami Dollery, Chartered Legal Executive at Fletchers Solicitors, in 2018, who investigated and confirmed that Arfon had a medical negligence claim to pursue. Ami was able to obtain an admission of liability in relation to the claim and an interim payment of compensation, so that Arfon had funds to be able to concentrate on his recovery, and rehabilitation.

In January 2021, Arfon paid privately to have a suprapubic catheter fitted to reduce the number of infections he was suffering from and improve his quality of life. He was also introduced to his Case Manager, Steve Pimm, from Rehab Without Walls who supports people who have complex rehabilitation and care needs. Steve was instrumental in arranging Arfon’s residential stay at STEPS so that he could receive the intensive rehabilitation and specialist care he so desperately needed.

Spinal Injury Rehabilitation

When Arfon and Steve recognised that he would benefit from a period of intensive rehabilitation to improve his recovery, they carefully researched rehabilitation facilities around the UK but found that many fell short of his requirements. Some centres had shared dormitories, and some even needed him to take his own team of carers and food for the duration of his stay. When they found STEPS, with residential facilities, a hydrotherapy pool, café, and specialist therapies, they immediately knew it was the best place for his recovery.

Prior to coming to STEPS, Arfon and Steve met with a member of the clinical team, who carried out an assessment to fully understand Arfon’s condition and rehabilitation requirements.

Initially Arfon's stay was for a period of 6 weeks intensive residential rehabilitation, but thrilled with his progress so far, he extended his stay until the end of August 2021.

Residential Spinal Rehabilitation

Arfon’s days at STEPS are busy. He starts his day with breakfast before his first physio session, “sometimes there can be multiple therapists helping me in my sessions and making plans for my rehabilitation.”

He is also enjoying regular aquatic therapy sessions in the onsite hydrotherapy pool; this was the first time he had been in a pool for 4 years. Throughout the day, he uses the specialist gym equipment to improve his cardio, as well as having sessions with the psychologist, art therapist, hypnotherapist, and acupuncture treatment.

He also has regular sessions with Sian from Red Pepper Nutrition. She is an experienced Dietitian and is passionate about improving people’s health and well-being through a holistic approach to nutrition.

"Working with the team at STEPS has been a pleasure as a dietitian” says Sian Riley MSc, a Registered Dietitian. “They are well informed about their client’s nutritional needs and understand the importance of fuelling rehabilitation. The chefs are creative and produce some mouth-watering, nutritious meals, resulting in our clients meeting their health goals, whilst enjoying delicious food."

Following a busy day of rehabilitation and his evening meal, Arfon enjoys spending time with the other clients at STEPS, “that in itself is therapy, we are a support network and help each other.”

The intensive residential rehabilitation has given Arfon the chance to focus on his recovery. His hard work and determination has seen him achieve so much already, and continued rehabilitation will help him realise the very best outcomes.

What next?

Arfon is looking to purchase a suitable property, and, with the help of his builder, he is going to make the necessary adaptations needed to make it a fully accessible home. He also plans on travelling the world, something he used to love to do in his job in the merchant navy and get a golden retriever puppy!

Before he leaves STEPS, he would like to try one of the exoskeleton suits, having seen other clients at STEPS walking in them. He also plans to dive again for the first time since his accident, with the help of DiveWorld UK.

“STEPS is amazing, every single staff member is happy, and even the founding Directors, Jules and Toria are always around and accessible for a chat. Everything here is built around me, it really is a special place.”

A video of Arfon's Case Study can be viewed here: