A Welsh dad has been left paralysed after a horrific motorbike accident during a dream holiday in Thailand. Lee Francis, a 54 year old father of two from Church Village, returned home on a stretcher after an agonising 18-hour flight and is now hospitalised in Wales.
Lee, a respected community occupational therapist in the Rhondda Cynon Taf area, now finds himself needing the support he used to provide. He also has a warning for other travellers about two precautions that saved his life, reports WalesOnline.
His trip to visit his daughter Katie in Thailand turned into a nightmare when he and his wife Clare crashed their motorcycle into a metal barrier. Now, Lee is in intensive care with severe trauma and paralysis from the waist down, his life forever altered by his injuries.
“I still can’t get my head around it,” Lee shared with WalesOnline. “It has hit me for six. Our life is going to totally change and I’m just a bit worried about the future. I had a wonderful holiday with my daughter. This happened on our last day… the outcome is not great for me, to be honest. “
Lee’s injuries were severe, including broken ribs, a fractured spine in three places and serious lung contusions. His condition worsened in hospital, developing complications that severely impacted his treatment for paralysis.
As he stabilised, he underwent surgery which he hoped would help him keep the use of his legs. The operation was successful but Lee was told he would never walk again, a devastating blow for a man whose life revolved around sport and activity.
Back in the UK, Lee’s other daughter Abigail and her step-siblings Dylan and Menna were busy ensuring his insurance covered the numerous surgeries and complications he was facing. When Lee was ready, he endured a “traumatic” 18-hour stretcher flight home to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff.
Sadly, it was confirmed that he was paralysed from the waist down. Speaking to WalesOnline just five days after returning home, he was visibly shaken by recent events.
“It’s lovely to get back to Wales,” he said. “It was quite traumatising being in hospital in Thailand. I was in a lot of excruciating pain, especially the first hospital I was in, and I had a bit of trauma coming home on the plane. Back in Wales, especially on this ward, they’re phenomenal and have been really good to me.”
“I’ve had a lot of tests and they have continued to unfortunately give me the diagnosis that I couldn’t walk again. It’s going to be a bit of a long process and it’s devastating news as you can imagine.”
Lee, who is now double incontinent due to his condition, hopes to undergo spinal rehab soon to regain some mobility. His wife Clare Francis, who was also involved in the accident, suffered a concussion and deep abrasions but is now recovering at home.
“She has been very tearful and emotional,” said Lee. “She supported me for days and days in the hospital, but now I haven’t seen her for three or four days because she can’t come in. She’s going through it emotionally.”
Despite a tough few weeks, Lee remains hopeful and is already thinking about getting back into sport. “It would be a dream, but I don’t know how capable I’m going to be” he said. He added: “If I’m in a wheelchair, perhaps I can still help out with a local basketball club, hopefully coaching.”
He credits his helmet for saving his life during the crash. “My helmet smashed totally in half,” he said. “I think if I didn’t wear it I wouldn’t be here today.”
“I want to make people aware going out to places like Thailand that wearing protective gear on the motorbike saved my life. Also, I spent about three hours doing travel insurance with my daughter and I was just going to go for the cheapest one.”
“If I hadn’t gone for the dearer one, I wouldn’t have had insurance to cover me. I want to make people aware – that is so important. The hospital we went to, they were saying it happens all the time, and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”
Now, Lee is facing a tough reality many disabled people know. He’s worried about his job as an occupational therapist and thinking about how to adapt his home to keep his independence. But there’s only one toilet in his house, and it’s upstairs.
He wants to put in a wet room and ramps, expecting he’ll need a wheelchair when he gets home. But getting the money for this is difficult, and he knows it.
“It’s means-tested and it’s a very strict regime that they go through.,” he said. “They put it through the computer and it comes out if you qualify or not. I know for a fact I won’t because I’ve gone through this process with so many other people. It’s a hard one, and it’s cruel in a way, but I understand they’ve only got so much funding because I work for the council.”
Lee’s family came up with a plan – they started a GoFundMe page to help adapt his home. His daughter Katie said: “Since the whole accident happened it has been traumatic. It wasn’t just his spinal injury: There were a lot of things that went wrong and we weren’t sure at one point whether he would survive, to be honest.”
“We’ve all had a bit of a difficult year. Me and my sister lost our mother in September and that was a big hit for us and when this happened to my dad we were scared it was going to happen again.”
“It was actually my dad who made me turn around. The day after he got his diagnosis he was like: ‘Right, I’m not going to let this affect me, I’m going to make the most out of my life.’ The only thing holding him back was that he might not be able to be comfortable in his own home.”
They want to raise money so Lee can stay independent at home and a GoFundMe campaign has been set up, to donate, click here.
Lee shared: “I’ve had a bit of a low period these last couple of days, but I’ve got to try and live day by day and move forward. They’ve said I might be in hospital for about six months… I’m hoping and praying things can be done.”
“[The GoFundMe] is not me, I’m a very private person and I don’t like taking stuff off anybody. But my priority is trying to get my house adapted, to ease off my wife and myself. Everybody has been so generous so far. It’s quite overwhelming.”
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