Client Mel’s Comeback after a Paralysing Spinal Cord Injury

Hi! My name is Mel and I’ve been a lover of Pilates ever since my first session with Lisa at Core Pilates about 5 or 6 years ago! I never was much of a fitness buff, but Pilates just spoke to me.

I have a pretty crazy story. Two years ago I was living and working in Canada, when I had an awful skiing accident. I fell about 20ft onto hard, icy ground and broke my back. My L2 vertebrae burst and I was instantly paralysed. It was terrifying. And incredibly painful. As I lay there in the snow, I couldn’t accept that I wasn’t able to feel or move my legs, but I also knew exactly what was happening. It’s cliche, but you never think these things will happen to you, until they do. And they can happen in an instant. I had emergency surgery the same day and spent a month in Vancouver hospital. Once I was well enough to fly, I came home to Australia and spent another three months in a Brisbane Hospital, in a Spinal Rehab Unit.  A couple of days before flying home to Brisbane, the most exciting thing happened. Every day I had been laying in bed, listening to music and just TRYING to move my legs, my feet, my toes – anything. Well finally, there was the tiniest flicker in my big toe! It was barely even visible. But the flicker was there and I knew that it was me controlling that movement!

For some reason, my entire time in hospital I was confident that I would be fine. The surgeon had told me that my spinal cord wasn’t completely severed, but that I had a lot of nerve damage.They didn’t know what my prognosis was – if I would ever be able to walk again. But hearing that I had a lot of nerve damage – it was actually the best news to me. I thought,  “Oh great, if it’s just nerve stuff, that’s totally fine. I just have to re-train my brain! No worries.” I was just so determined to get better again and I went into action mode. I knew that, not matter how long it took, I was going to walk again and I wouldn’t listen to anyone who suggested otherwise. I don’t know why I was so positive about it – possibly I was just in denial! But that positivity got me through and honestly, given where I am today, I truly believe that the mind has a LOT to do with healing.


Fast forward two years – (and a lot of rehab and therapies), I am now walking! I no longer have any aids, like crutches or walking sticks. I can walk on my own and do so quite confidently. I’ve even started to learn to run again! And in August this year, I’m travelling to New Zealand to try to get back on my skis for the first time since the accident. I love skiing and I miss it – I never blamed skiing or the snow for the accident – I knew that it was just a freak thing that can happen to anyone, anywhere.

My love of Pilates, and my body awareness that had come from it, really helped me in my physio and therapy sessions. I knew how to isolate certain muscles. And I think I was quite mindful of it all. It was really bizarre because some of the muscles that I had learned to isolate through Pilates (for example, my hamstrings in a bridge pose) came back quicker and easier than some other muscles – like the ones that are used in automatic movements. I found I could engage random muscles like my hammies, but I couldn’t move my foot up and down, something that I would’ve been doing since birth! You would assume that these things just come back to you, but I really did have to learn again from scratch. A Spinal Cord Injury definitely teaches you patience! What I especially love about Pilates as a form of rehab, is it isn’t just about the body and doing reps over and over again, but it’s about connecting your body and mind, and strengthening the neural pathways when performing certain movements. 


I am extremely grateful for where I am today and I know that I am one of the very few lucky ones. There are more than 15,000 Aussies living with a Spinal Cord Injury, and approximately 400 new cases each year. Some from accidents, some from infections, some from tumours. Not being able to walk is just the very tip of the iceberg that is a Spinal Cord Injury. There are a myriad of other health issues that come with it – neuropathic pain, bladder & bowel issues, pressure sores, spasms, even the inability to breath properly. Not to mention the fact that Australia still has a way to go with accessibility and disability services.

This weekend, the 5th May 2019, I am flying to Melbourne to participate in the Wings For Life World Run! It is a global race organised by Redbull, and 100% of the entry fees and donations go towards Spinal Cord Injury research. Scientists believe that we will find a cure for SCI in our lifetime. I hope that the more awareness we can bring to the cause will result in more funding and more research! I can’t run properly yet, so I will be walking. And I will be walking for those who can’t.


Thank you so much to Core Pilates, and particularly my beautiful instructors Luisa & Lisa, for supporting me on this journey, and helping me prepare my legs for this next challenge!

Guest Blog Post by Mel Heffernan

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