Inspirational Edinburgh Doctor braves charity wing-walk months after near fatal accident
In a coma for five and a half weeks, his right arm amputated above the elbow, he faced the likelihood of being hospital bound for the rest of his life due to damage to his internal organs. That was if he survived, doctors held little hope for the triathlete and former Marine from Edinburgh.
Less than a year on from the near fatal accident, the 55-year-old who was brought up near the Dean Bridge has defied all expectations. Well on the way to recovery, he's just returned to work with the NHS where, as irony would have it, he is a prosthetist and orthotist at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.
As we chat, he laughs nervously as he tells me about the new adventure he is set embark upon later this year, amazingly, he has signed up to go wing-walking with a host of celebrities in a bid to raise £80,000 for Tonic Rider, a unique, free mental health programme for the music community. The event, Barry Ashworth's Flying Circus, will take place over the weekend of September 28 and 29 and feature the likes of Bez from the Happy Mondays, Kosheen's Sian Evans, Nick Reynolds of the Alabama 3 and EMF's Derran Brownson.
"I think Barry felt it was important to involve me because, essentially, since my accident every new thing I've done has been about getting over the my of things. Things like falling over, being too close to a truck, or getting on a bike. I'm very much about pushing my boundaries and showing others that it's possible for them to push theirs."
Despite his determination, Jim admits the prospect of zoom climbs and steep dives while standing on top of a Boeing Stearman Biplane "scares the willies" out of him. He confesses. "Barry, who started all this off, is my brother-in-law. He called me up in December and asked if I wanted to get involved. I'd only been out of hospital a couple of weeks and, though it was the worst thing I could possibly imagine doing, I said yes immediately."
There's a reason Jim considers the challenge the ‘worst thing’ he could do, "I have a terrible head for heights," he admits, "I'm an ex-serviceman and we used to climb cliffs and repel out of helicopters... All that stuff scares the bejasus out of me but part of the reason I got into the Marines was to face my fears. It's now equally important for me to do that."
At the time of his accident Jim was enjoying a full life, splitting his time between helping patients with complex spinal, orthopaedic and neurological conditions and training to become a fitness coach. He reflects that being part of the Flying Circus was important to him as music had played an important part of his recovery, helping get him through the darkest hours.
"Because of the nature of the accident - I was basically crushed under this truck - the loss of my arm is the least of my problems. Most of the issues were related to internal injuries; I was getting told my liver had packed up, that my kidneys had packed up, that I would be on dialysis three times a week forever, which I've actually recovered from, incredibly. There was just something new coming at me every day. Listening to the music of the 70's 80's and 90's, when my life was much more positive, triggered memories of good times and that pulled me through. So doing the wing-walk is about giving something back."
He continues, "As a society, we don't value our artists enough. What they do is what makes life worth living. I love music and feel terrible for the ordeal musicians and have had over the past year, not being able to do what they need to do. Most of the time, people like me just respond to an issue; a patient comes in with a problem and I try to solve it. For these guys, they are trying to create something out of thin air all the time, that must be really high pressure."
If music kept his spirits high in those early days of his recovery, Jim has little doubt his incredible fitness also played a part, as did his glass half full attitude to life.
He recalls, "The first weeks out of the coma I was pretty groggy because I was on all sorts of good drugs. Then for the first three and a half months I was told I might not make it and to take it 24 hours at a time. Without a doubt my fitness helped. My medical teams, I was under 12 different teams at one point, said they couldn't believe I was still around and that my fitness was the thing.
"I was actually super-fit at the time because I was training for another triathlon, when I had the accident I'd just finished physical training and was having a cycle up towards Crystal Palace when me and the truck came together.
"I'm back working full time, I say full time, but about 25 hours a week, which is what I was doing before. So it's all good really, but I haven't changed my attitude to life because of the accident, I've always responded to adversity in a positive way."
Working in the field of artificial limbs gave Jim a unique insight into what lay in store. It also allowed him an intimate knowledge of the technology and options available when choosing a artificial limb.
"The biggest benefit was knowing what the possibilities were and also the limitations of even the best technology," he says. "Our game is about making devices that allow people to live their lives in the best way possible. New innovations are coming along all the time. With upper limbs, which is actually my field of interest funnily enough, often the most basic devices are the most useful because it's about doing what you want to do with the device rather than having fancy hands."
For his own prosthetic limb, Jim's focus is very much on function. He elaborates, "Because I want to go back to working with patients, I need an arm that is reliable and safe and doesn't freak people out. I have one in the corner of the room here, a myoelectric arm, which probably has about £50,000 worth of technology in it. I'm trialing it at the moment in preparation for my future bionic arm, but alongside that I also have my basic NHS arm, which is simply a split hook."
It was while he was in a coma that his sister, Lisa, started a Gofundme page to pay for his 'bionic arm' and, as we relive memories of watching The Bionic Man on TV back in the day, Jim says, "That technology is with us now, though still experimental. The technology in this arm has only been applied to six people in the world so far, I would be number seven. Unlike a normal artificial limb, where it is suspended from a socket, with this technology it's actually fixed directly to your skeleton through a metal pin on which the limb locks."
Thoughtfully, he reflects, "At one point, the worst scenario was that I wouldn't leave the hospital at all as I was on dialysis 24/7. I wouldn't like to attribute human characteristics to animals but, when you see the fox who has been run over in the road and hobbles on, just trying to live its life, that is basically me. It's not even a conscious thing, you just get up and keep plugging away and if your body heals itself, so much the better."
It is unlikely that fox would ever have to loop the loop strapped to a biplane, however. Jim laughs, "Is that what the press release says, I hadn't realised I'd be doing that but as long as there is sunshine, it will be great."
To help fund Jim's new bionic arm, the Gofundme page can be found at https://gofund.me/e052209d
To donate to Barry's Flying Circus' collective wing walk for mental health, go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/barrysflyingcircus