Paralysed man defies medics to use arms again

yan Bryden enjoyed a hugely active lifestyle and worked out in the gym ' until one fateful night. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
yan Bryden enjoyed a hugely active lifestyle and worked out in the gym ' until one fateful night. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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FOR a fitness fanatic who spent hours in the gym every day, it was a moment that was to change his life forever – and he was never even aware of it happening.

When he went to sleep on what seemed a typical night in October 2011, Ryan Bryden could have had no idea he would wake up paralysed from the neck down.

At the time the 22-year-old was working as a DJ and in city nightclubs and volunteering to feed the homeless in a soup kitchen, as well as exercising regularly. But the next time he woke up was several days later, in a specialist clinic in Glasgow where he had been left in a coma after suffering a rare spinal stroke in the middle of the night.

He was later told the stroke was most likely to have been caused by the unusual way he slept, with his neck tilted back, and after being rushed to the specialist centre his family was told to prepare for the worst, giving him just a 40 per cent chance of survival.

But Ryan woke up, at the facility where he was to spend the next year battling against the odds. He found he was unable to move from the neck down as a result of the devastating attack, caused by a blood clot.

Ryan, who had converted a room in his home into a gym, was then given the grim news that he would not be able to live without a ventilator or even use a manual wheelchair.

Three-and-a-half years on however, he has proved doctors wrong on both counts, having made remarkable progress. He can now lift his arms above his head, having signed up to a gym, and has even regained movement in his thumb, with the help of a touch-screen phone.

Now 25, Ryan lives in his own flat in Leith, although he has an on-call carer next door. Determined not to let his disability stand in his way, he has signed up at Edinburgh College, where he has completed a counselling course and is currently studying social sciences.

His biggest battle, to one day walk again, lies ahead of him. But Ryan is determined that he will defy expert predictions if he can overcome another hurdle – to get the specialist help from the NHS that he says he desperately needs.

He said: “The doctors said I had the stroke due to the way I slept, with my neck bent all the way back. I also don’t know if I was also overdoing it with the weights, I was constantly working out.

“Before that, everything was perfect. I used to smoke too much but that was it. I was fighting fit and into clubbing. DJing in Edinburgh was my job. I also did a bit of voluntary work, in a soup kitchen serving food to the homeless.

“I can’t remember getting to hospital, I was initially in a coma for a couple of days. When I woke up, I was morphined up to the eyeballs and just felt like I was dreaming.”

When he did come round, Ryan says he took the shock news in his stride, looking on the bright side even in the greatest of adversity.

“I was positive from the start, I just thought ‘I will get better’,” he said. “In the spinal unit, there were a few people with broken backs and you see them come to the realisation that they may never walk again.

“That’s never really sunk in for me, even now. I decided I wasn’t going to sit there and dwell on it. I would sneak out and go partying, even when I was paralysed from the neck down. Taxi drivers would push me into clubs and people would help me out when I would get there.”

After receiving intensive physio, Ryan made rapid improvements. While his progress has continued after his discharge, the help has not. He now has some movement in his thumb, and is hopeful that he will soon be able to use decks once again, after achieving success before his stroke mixing R&B and hip-hop with trance and dance. His inability to play an instrument has meant he has been unable to take a music course.

However, he says NHS Lothian is denying him specialist physiotherapy. Ryan also says he has been left with a “ramshackle” wheelchair, which he says the health board refused to replace. It has broken hand rails, and he says requests to have a mechanism fitted to prevent him falling backwards out of the seat have been refused. As a result, Ryan says he can fall out of his chair on the bus.

At his gym, which he visits four times a week, he is helped by a carer rather than an expert physio.

NHS Lothian today said that it is looking into Ryan’s case and promised to get in touch to discuss his care.

Ryan added: “I’m slowly getting there but I need physio. I know I can walk again. But the NHS just say they have done all they can. It makes me feel inadequate, like I don’t deserve a life. I will never give up hope, but I feel like they’re trying to make me give up hope, saying ‘sit on your chair, you’re never going to progress or get better’.

“But the way I see it I’ll never get down and I won’t let them put me down.

“The doctors have said I’ll never walk again, but I’ve said all along I’ll prove them wrong. I’ve already proved them wrong about the other things they’ve told me.”

Anne Keegan, who became a friend of Ryan’s after they met through their church, said: “Ryan is incredibly positive, he’s not one for wallowing in self-pity. His attitude is amazing. But we need the NHS to be positive as well.”

Dr David Farquharson, NHS Lothian’s medical director, said: “We are sorry to hear Mr Bryden’s concerns and are looking into these now as we have been unaware of any complaints around his care. We will make it a priority to contact Mr Bryden to help us better understand his needs and the support he requires from NHS Lothian.”