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Back Up

Charity appeal. BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner, who was shot six times at close range while on assignment in Saudi Arabia in 2004, appeals on behalf of Back Up.


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'As the BBC's Security Correspondent, I have been covering

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'news in the Middle East and elsewhere for 15 years.'

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Now that the US has a base here in the Horn of Africa...

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'In 2004, while I was reporting from Saudi Arabia,

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'we were ambushed and repeatedly shot by several gunmen.'

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A BBC team has come under fire from gunmen

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in a suburb of the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

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My cameraman was killed

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and one of the six bullets that hit me damaged my spinal nerves,

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leaving my legs partly paralysed and me dependent on a wheelchair for the rest of my life.

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Now, sadly spinal cord injuries are not rare.

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They can happen to anybody at any time,

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regardless of age or background.

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'Matt, when he was growing up was, like many boys of his age, sport-mad.

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'And he lived for his rugby.

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'When he was 17 years old, his sporting dream came true.

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'He was signed up to play with the London Broncos.

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'But just 20 seconds into his first ever professional game,

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'Matt's neck was broken in a rugby tackle.'

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I had a phone-call from my husband.

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He said that Matthew had been hurt. He'd got a neck injury

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and then he said he'd been air-lifted to hospital,

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by which stage I could feel my body starting to shake.

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We arrived at the hospital,

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they took me into a room and they said that it looked very serious.

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It was quite terrifying when the paramedics were

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asking me whether I could feel my toes and I couldn't,

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and they were asking me to move my fingers and I was trying

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and nothing was happening, you know.

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It hit me - it hit me like a smack in the face.

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I didn't need to be told that I'd broken my neck,

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that I'd never again be able to move my body

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and do the things I'd done for the first 17 years of my life.

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'Not only was Matt paralysed, the accident damaged his diaphragm

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'and left him dependent on a ventilator to breathe.'

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There are an estimated 40,000 people in the UK

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living with a spinal cord injury.

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And every single day more people suffer this life-changing injury.

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And I know how devastating it can be on a person's life.

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But there is a charity called Back Up

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that works to help and support people affected by a spinal injury.

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'Spinal cord injuries are not always just the result of a physical accident.

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'Sometimes it can happen totally out of blue.

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'Four years ago while in bed and alone in her flat,

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'Yasmin suddenly became aware that she couldn't feel her legs.'

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In the middle of the night I needed to go to the loo

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and I just couldn't go.

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And each time I went to the loo and back to bed

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my legs just got weaker and weaker.

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And I kept falling down, and then in the end

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I just couldn't get out of bed at all.

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And I just didn't realise what was happening.

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Within hours, I was paralysed.

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'Yasmin had suffered a stroke of the spinal cord.

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'She was just 29 years old.'

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I'd never heard of anyone becoming paralysed overnight.

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You know, just disbelief. I was a fit, healthy person, never smoked,

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went to the gym five days a week.

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I was the last person you'd expect for something like this to happen.

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'Not only does spinal cord injury cause paralysis,

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'other vital bodily functions are affected too.

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'Day to day care is often required.

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'The psychological impact on an individual can be huge.

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'Back Up recognises this and it works to help people deal with

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'the emotional impact of a spinal cord injury.'

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You lost about half your weight, didn't you?

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'After spending three weeks in intensive care,

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'Matt was transferred to the specialist spinal unit

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'at Stoke Mandeville Hospital.'

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That was the point I broke down.

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He couldn't talk, he was having to whisper everything.

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You can imagine a 17-year-old waking up, being told that he's paralysed from his neck down

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and not even able to talk to you.

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It was incredibly scary.

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I didn't know what I could do with my life - and I don't think anybody did.

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'It was while Matt was in hospital that he was told about

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'the rehab courses run by Back Up

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'where people with a spinal cord injury can try new activities, like skiing.'

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I thought because of my level of disability

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that I simply wouldn't be able to do it.

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'But he could through Back Up.'

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I never thought I'd be able to sit at the top of a ski run

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or go out nightclubbing with everybody

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and doing all the things that a 17 or 18 year old lad

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was meant to be doing.

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And that ski trip was truly incredible

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and I think it gave me the foundation to build on.

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'People who've had a spinal cord injury themselves

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'are best placed to help others through the experience,

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'and Back Up knows this. They run a mentoring scheme

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'where they pair up someone who's had a recent injury

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'or a family member with someone

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'who has already gone through the experience.'

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The mentors, I felt, you know, I could really relate to them.

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They were very helpful and they gave me hope.

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'One of the mentors suggested Yasmin go on one of Back Up's

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'scuba diving rehab courses to Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.'

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The scuba diving was amazing.

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And honestly it was just beautiful under the water.

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You just feel free of your disability

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because it doesn't matter.

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Four years ago, if someone had said to you on your hospital bed,

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"You'll be throwing yourself out of a plane, you'll be waterskiing,

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"and back to work," I would not have believed her,

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I wouldn't have believed her in a million years.

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But honestly that is what Back Up have done for me.

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'Psychologically, activities like these make such a difference

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'to those of us with spinal injuries.

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But there is practical help at hand too.

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Has anybody got any ideas of how you'd push one-handed?

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Back Up run wheelchair skills sessions

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at 11 specialist spinal units across the UK.

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They're helping people to try to recover

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that all-important independence.

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You've all got a cone each.

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'Today, Sean and his team are running a session

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'for recently-injured patients.

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'Like all Back Up wheelchair skills trainers,

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'he's got a spinal cord injury himself.'

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The skills that we're teaching are really to

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build up people's confidence in using chairs,

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give them really practical skills

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that they're going to need in everyday life.

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So, we're going to be pushing, nice and steadily,

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flicking your castors up.

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That's it.

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When you've been in bed very frightened, very trapped,

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getting in into a chair and having the opportunity

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to make some independent decisions about which room you go into,

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who you talk to, which table you sit at is like a new beginning.

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'A year after Matt's accident,

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'he went back to school to complete his A levels

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'and then on to university where he got a 1st in his law degree.'

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I've recently started work as a trainee solicitor on London.

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I'm able to live in my own home with the support of a care team.

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I've completed two Great North Runs and the New York Marathon.

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And these are things that I never thought I'd be able to do.

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Matthew has just done so well,

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and to have achieved as much as he has now, I'm so proud of him.

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Back Up really can make a huge difference to people's lives,

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literally transforming them, and I've seen this with my own eyes.

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They need this work to continue.

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So, as someone who's personally had to deal with spinal cord injury,

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I'm asking you to donate to this appeal

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and help others in a similar situation.

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Please donate by going to the website - bbc.co.uk/lifeline.

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If you don't have access to the internet, then call 0800 011 011.

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And if you can't get through, then please, please keep trying.

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You can also donate £10 by texting the word "support" to 70121.

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Texts cost £10 plus your standard network message charge

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and the whole £10 goes to Back Up.

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Full terms and conditions can be found at bbc.co.uk/lifeline.

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Telephone calls are free from most landlines.

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Some networks and mobile operators will charge for these calls.

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Or if you'd like to post a donation, please make your cheque

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payable to Back Up and send it to Freepost, BBC Lifeline Appeal,

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writing "Back Up" on the back of the envelope.

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Remember, if you're a UK taxpayer,

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the charity can collect gift aid on your donation, worth another 25%.

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Just send in a note, to say you want your donation

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to be subject to Gift Aid

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and include the date, your full name and address.

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Thank you.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner was shot six times at close range while on assignment in Saudi Arabia in 2004. His spinal cord was severely damaged, and he was left dependent on a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He makes an appeal on behalf of Back Up, a charity which understands that a spinal cord injury can be devastating, but does not believe it should prevent anyone from getting the most out of life.

The film features Matt, who was paralysed from the neck down in a rugby accident eight years ago. Back Up supported him as he adapted to his new life and he is now training to be a solicitor.