System reboot: An open letter to the North East tech sector

Sammy and I in Hospital Costa. Other coffee chains are not available.

Hi everyone. I’m so, so grateful for all the well wishes and messages that Sammy and I have received since the accident. It’s taken me almost ten weeks to get my body and mind into a position where I feel I can begin to reconnect with the world and, indeed, all of you.

The support, both emotional and financial via the Gofundme page, has been incredible. I never expected it and I can’t quite believe the love I’ve received. I certainly don’t feel worthy of it. Thank you so much. Special thanks to our friend, Laura Partridge, for setting this up. While I’m sure I will speak to you all over the coming months, I thought I’d try and write about what’s happened. There’s not much I know but one thing I’ve always enjoyed is writing. It’s one of the main things I’ve missed since my life changed on April 15th. I hope this gives both you and I some comfort until we meet again.

When you next see me I’m going to look a little different to previously. And, having thought about it, I’d prefer to just get the facts out in the open. I don’t want people wondering what’s happened, what I can and can’t do or, even, what you can and can’t say around me.

Simply put, I’m very lucky to be alive. The injuries I sustained that day had both short and long term impacts on my life. Following the fall on Mount Tryfan, I was airlifted to Liverpool Aintree Hospital with two collapsed lungs, a broken sternum (chest), multiple broken ribs on both sides of the ribcage and, most crucially, a broken back in three places severely damaging my spine. That’s not to mention the many bumps, bruises and impact wounds across my body. If you thought Jamie stumbling out of By The River Brew was an ugly sight, we’re talking Pete Daykin pre-coffee on a Monday morning levels of ugly here (*shudders*)…

Flippancy aside and as shit as the above sounds — and FYI, it felt shitter than it reads, believe me! — I really do feel lucky and thankful as I type this. I would not be here today without the kindness and fast-acting decisiveness of strangers, healthcare workers and loved ones. To them, I owe everything.

I’m thankful to: the elderly man walking his sheepdog at the foot of the mountain who radioed in the accident (take note fellow millennials carrying your signalless iphones in the mountains), a hiker called Jack who crucially kept me awake following the fall, first-responder paramedics who stinted my lungs to give me a chance to get to hospital, the air ambulance team who safely got me off the mountain, Dr Maggie Lee and the spinal specialists who performed life-saving surgery, the amazing NHS staff across three hospitals who attended to me and, of course, my inimitable wife and family who stopped me, more than once, from going under. Thank you.

So, today, where am I? Literally I’m in a specialist unit in Middlesbrough where I’m pursuing a programme of rehab. As I say, I look different. I’ve lost weight and my body is scarred. Most notably, I’m sitting in a wheelchair as I can’t stand or walk. This is because I have primarily injured the T12/L2 area of my spine, due to the impact of the fall. I’ve been assessed by consultants who’ve told me that my injury is ‘Incomplete’. This means my case and recovery is somewhat of an unknown; uncertainty exists.

Unlike a ‘Complete’ injury, where the spinal cord severs resulting in total mobility impairment for good, my functionality could return. I’m no medical professional (you Jamie, no?) but to give you a *very* basic insight, your brain sends messages (neurons) around your body via the spinal cord. In a normal, healthy body messages travel up and down the cord allowing us to move.

Due to my injury, some of these messages are getting blocked and confused. I have upper body functionality in exactly the same way as I did before the accident, as the body is only impaired below the T12 region. So due to the position of this lower-back spinal injury, parts of the legs aren’t receiving the info they need to move appropriately. Hence me being in the wheelchair.

With my injury, we don’t know what’s going to happen. I may stand again, I may not. I may walk again, I may not. Walking especially, I’m told, is unlikely. The first four to six months post-injury will give us a good understanding of what I’ll ultimately get back. It could take two years for maximum recovery. If you know me, and if you’re reading this I’m guessing you do, you’ll know I’m convincing myself that I’m going to beat this. No one has told me walking again is impossible. So I’m fighting and I’ll keep fighting.

Anyway, I’ll likely be here for most of the summer. Time is a great healer and neuro-physiotherapy complements natural healing. Four weeks ago I couldn’t move my toes or feet, six weeks ago I couldn’t feel my bum or anything below my knees, eight weeks ago I could barely lift my head up. Recovery is slowly working as I now have sensation everywhere. The numbness has lifted. Toes, feet, ankles, can move. Legs can move side to side and in various positions. The task right now is getting the hips and quads firing so I can extend the legs. This is crucial if I am to stand. There’s a long way to go. Sometimes I whisper at the legs when no one is around, ‘Howay, lift up. Come on man. Come onnnnnnn…’ Surprisingly this is yet to take effect but don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted…

Mentally I’m trying to be as dogged and determined as I can be. Of course, it’s not always easy. To say there have been lows would be an understatement. Yet, to be honest, feeling crap feels quite foreign to me. I’ve been very, very lucky in life; I can’t say I don’t have it good. So, I’m just trying to be positive. It’s all I can do. Both professionally and personally I typically operate by stringently pursuing goals. This has to continue now. I’m not going to wallow in self pity and upset; I’m really not. Bit by bit I’ve got goals to achieve. I so, so want to get back on my feet. As I say: fighting.

To sum up, I’m taking it day by day. Focusing on the small things. Not feeling sorry for myself. And this brings me to the favour I need to ask of you. Please, don’t feel sorry for me. Believe me, I’m lucky to be here. I think that’s worth celebrating (even if it means you’ll have to put up with more sobering analysis of UK tech sector data. Yikes). Yep, I’m still me. Still that geeky, smiling idiot who likes oversized check shirts, hazy IPAs and writing about startups (cough, hipster, cough). I have my (limited) wits, my memories, my upper body and my ability to be taken the piss out of — and, more importantly, my ability to take the piss out of you too! Sorry Pete; somehow you were the most obvious butt to be the butt of a joke, mate.

Moving forward I’m going to continue to write and recount. I think this is part of the mental healing process. Plus the days are very long and I’ve nearly completed Netflix. Writing feels like the next step. Coming to terms with what’s happened, what’s going on and seeing if documenting the experience can help anyone else seems a sound plan. I’ll eventually post my ramblings openly but right now I’m doubling down on the recovery programme and trying to maximise the time here. I do, however, look forward to seeing you soon and reconnecting when I’m ready.

I’ve addressed this piece to the tech sector but, really, it actually extends to the wider business community in the region. The help and support you’ve shown has been unbelievable. From friends I regularly see to folks I’ve not seen in years, I feel so privileged to be part of this community and to have a place in your thoughts.

I truly am so grateful and can’t thank you enough for being with me. There’ve been many difficult times over the past couple of months, mostly confined to a hospital bed with little to do, so having Sammy read out all of your lovely messages really has helped. Thank you, North East. The system, while slowly, is rebooting.

Sincere love and warmth, Jamie.

P.S. I was delighted to hear that Flora has finally made it home to the Hills. 2022 hasn’t been the best year but that really is the best news. Go Flora!

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Head of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Sunderland Software City. Passionate about the North East tech scene.

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Jamie Hardesty

Jamie Hardesty

Head of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Sunderland Software City. Passionate about the North East tech scene.

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