Published by Cleo Canning on
Jerry’s road to recovery: overcoming obstacles after a spinal cord injury
The life of Cheshire-based commercial airline pilot, Jerry Ward, was turned upside down after an accident in the ocean in Mexico left him paralysed from the neck down. With a spinal cord injury, and receiving ongoing home care support, Jerry is determined to continue living life to the full.
A life-changing moment in Mexico
It was November 2007. Jerry, a commercial airline pilot, had flown from Manchester to Las Vegas, and then went to Cancun, Mexico, before expecting to return to Manchester a few days later. This time off in between the flights gave Jerry a great chance to put in some training for the upcoming Great Manchester Run.
As Jerry came ashore after a swim in the ocean, a wave hit him from behind, and knocked him face forward into the water, his neck broken. Unable to move, Jerry tried calling for help, but being facedown, no one heard. He was drowned and unconscious before being pulled ashore by some passers-by, one of whom helped resuscitate him.
Jerry was taken to the hospital in Cancun, where a neurosurgeon took over from the ambulance crews and lifeguards who had already helped save his life.
The road to recovery: coming home to Manchester
Initially, Jerry was told that he would be paralysed from the neck down and would almost certainly have to spend the rest of his life on a life-support ventilator. Jerry needed a PEG feed tube inserted and a tracheostomy. He needed lengthy surgery when he got back to Manchester, and then a lengthy rehabilitation period followed.
Through Jerry’s determination and the incredible work by his nursing and physiotherapy teams, he recovered a little movement in his neck and was able to shrug his shoulders slightly. After three months, he was able to move his arm a little as well. Then, after another three months, he was able to get out of his hospital bed and into a wheelchair, which gave him the chance to experience the fresh winter air on his skin again.
It was during his time in intensive care in the Salford Royal that Jerry became even more determined to not let his injury hold him back. He set himself a goal of completing the 2008 Great Manchester Run, much to the surprise of his nursing team.
Jerry’s love of aviation
Before his injury Jerry built a rewarding career within aviation. He feels incredibly lucky to have been able to have had a scholarship while still at school to gain a private pilot’s licence. And during university he joined the RAF as a cadet, which gave him the opportunity to fly, and he went on to fly Tornados and other combat aircraft. He looks back on his RAF days with great pride and nostalgia, especially when he talks about his time with No. 43 Squadron during the first Gulf War.
Jerry has also been fortunate to have flown with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, flying the Lancaster and Dakota. He says it was “an extremely privileged position to be in.
“I had no idea how rewarding those years would be,” he continues. “When you land and meet the people who had flown the Lancaster Bombers during the war and paratroopers… I’m lost for words really to describe what that meant. Flying the aeroplane is like flying a memorial to those guys.”
Jerry also recalls a beautiful moment when he flew the Lancaster Bomber over The Mall in London for the 50th anniversary of VJ Day in 1995. As the aircraft approached Buckingham Palace, after the traditional two-minute silence, the crew released a million poppy petals over the crowd, which included veterans of the war and their families. This was immensely rewarding in itself, but there was more to come from the day.
“On the way back I was able to fly over my mother’s house in St. Albans,” Jerry says. “My mum was in the back garden with all the neighbours, and I was able to give her an impromptu fly-past.”
Overcoming obstacles after a spinal injury
As March 2008 came around, Jerry was able to get out and about in his wheelchair for a few hours each day. His rehabilitation and recovery were both progressing, and in May 2008, he was allowed to venture out with close support from his family, friends and healthcare professionals.
Though Jerry’s road to recovery has not always been smooth, the generosity of his friends in aviation and his family has been instrumental. In his own words, Jerry’s time in hospital following his accident – a period of 22 months – gave him the ‘spark’ to overcome his injury and still be Jerry.
“None of us can predict the future,” says Jerry. “It’s up to you to make the most of the opportunities you have, live for today, and make the most out of every day. Nobody expects to have a serious spinal injury – it’s how you work around the situation. There are still enormous rewards that you can have in life, even after a serious spinal injury.”
Show your support for Jerry: the 2017 Great Manchester Run
Jerry was determined and committed enough to complete the Great Manchester Run in 2008, just six months after his accident and three months after coming off a ventilator. He’s completed the run again in his wheelchair each year since, with the help of his Big Push Team of friends, family and colleagues, and in 2012 beat his his Great Run record before his accident by 11.5 minutes.
He’s excited to be at the start line again in this year’s Great Manchester Run this Sunday (28th May), raising money for Aspire and the Joshua Tree.
Show Jerry your support for the Great Manchester Run – make a donation on his fundraising page.
Looking for support at home? Contact Helping Hands
Jerry has been full of praise for the home support he’s received from Helping Hands. He likes that he has people around who “go the extra mile” to help him do the activities that mean the most. As well as helping with his daily requirements, having that extra support helps to provide Jerry with the independence he needs. And, as an incredible inspiration, our carers feel honoured to have been involved in his life.