How one man turned a tragic incident into a way to enlighten children through the creation of children’s books.
Back in 2013, a member of the OnTrack International team was unfortunately involved in a tragic accident, but what came from the accident changed his life forever. He has now written his own range of books aimed at children to teach them about disabilities, and how having a disability doesn’t mean your life is over.
Hi, I’m Brian, a retired Financial Services Executive from Halifax. And I took my last steps on this earth at about 9.15 am on Sunday the 4th of August 2013. There… that’s got your attention I imagine! So, let me explain.
I was looking forward to retiring quite early and I’d always been a keen cyclist. So, I was planning to cycle with my mate all the way from Halifax to Southern Spain. What an adventure we were going to have! The only trouble was I had ‘let myself go’ a bit, so some training was in order. My wife and I had been out in Manchester with a couple of friends on a Saturday night. We stayed over at their house in Derbyshire and I planned to cycle the 33 miles home on Sunday morning as the weather forecast looked good.
So, the next morning at 9.15 I kissed my wife goodbye and mounted my shiny new touring bicycle for the gentle ride home. Exactly one mile later I got into a spot of bother. I can’t be 100% certain but I remember being ‘muscled’ into the side of the road by an impatient driver who thought he had to get past me. I skidded on some grit, wobbled and then scraped along the stone wall to my left. The problem was the stone wall was very low, so I flipped over it. I then flew through the air backward down an embankment until I hit a tree full on. I then fell face down into a shallow, fast-flowing river some 20ft below.
Not looking good this, is it?! Well, I somehow managed to get my face out of the water and I now know someone waded into the river to help me, but I didn’t know this at the time. I knew I was very badly hurt, and I kept drifting in and out of consciousness, but I remained calm. I said goodbye to my wife, my kids, my mum and myself… and that was the last thing I remember.
A few hours later my wife got the phone call telling her to get to Manchester Royal Infirmary without delay. My catalogue of injuries was so huge that I really shouldn’t have survived. But somehow, I did and a few weeks later, when I came out of an induced coma, I saw her from my ICU bed at Salford Royal. However, I was now a T9 paraplegic with no possibility of regaining the use of my legs, so I will always be a full-time wheelchair user. Then, quite a few weeks later I was transferred to Pinderfields Spinal Unit, in Wakefield to start my rehabilitation.
When you arrive at a Spinal Unit you are like a baby. Helpless and with no control over the most basic bodily functions. You are broken… and you have to leave your dignity at the door. During your time there, the amazing staff help to fix you… they teach you techniques to carry on living your life and how to manage those functions that you will never be able to fully control. Most of all, they give you your dignity back. I can never thank them enough.
Two weeks short of a full year after the accident, I came home – albeit to a house I didn’t really know as my wife had managed the process of buying and renovating a bungalow whilst I was in the hospital. And only then did the long road to recovery really begin. Almost seven years on I am reasonably active. Of course, there are many difficulties in day to day living but life is good. When you know you shouldn’t really be here, getting a second chance feels amazing!
Retirement was inevitable after the accident I suppose, but I was ready for it. I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my only Grandson, Charles who was just 6 months old at the time of my accident. All the time I was in hospital I worried about how he would react to me as he got a bit bigger. What if he didn’t want to play with me? How would I keep him amused? I needn’t have worried of course as he just accepts me on face value. He calls me ‘Grandad Wheels’ to differentiate me from his other grandad and we have lots of fun together.
Grandad Wheels? Grandad Wheels? That gave me an idea. I’ve always been quite good with words, so I wrote a short story for him. Essentially, it’s all about what happens when he reaches 6 and he suddenly wants to know why I’m different from other grandads. I make up some nonsense about getting injured whilst fighting a lion! He thinks I’m sad because I don’t get to have any adventures in a wheelchair… and to change this, he ends up pushing me into a skateboard park! So, ‘The Adventures of Grandad Wheels!’ began. Family and friends who read the story said I should write more and make them available for others to enjoy.
So, I’ve now written five books in total and they aim to make children have a good laugh at what this silly grandad gets up to with grandson Charlie. Each story tells a little of what it is means to be a wheelchair user, but the real message is simple – anyone in a wheelchair can have fun and be fun to be with!
After a long search for an enthusiastic illustrator, I found Lynne Hickin, a local artist who has always wanted to try illustrating… and very good she is too! We then tried to get publishers interested in the books but with no luck. This was so annoying given that there are so few children’s books that have disabled characters… let alone one which puts a wheelchair user right at the heart of the story! And we knew we had something good as we even managed to get a supportive comment from none other than Sir Quentin Blake, world-famous illustrator of Roald Dahl’s many books!! He read the book and said “It’s an impressive piece of work…!” and gave us permission to use his quote in the book!
So, undeterred Lynne and I have funded the self-publishing of the first of the series, ‘Charlie’s Big Idea!’ and we launched this on 1st November 2019! We built our own website where people could read about the project and buy the books www.grandadwheels.com and with a little help from local press and TV coverage, we have managed to sell around 700 books in the three months since launch. We have had lots of great feedback from people who have bought the book. Here are just a few comments…
“Fantastic book! Congratulations! A brilliant read, one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read with Darcey in a very long time. Looking forward to your future adventures!” – Melanie Smith (Darcey is 5)
“Great book!! A cleverly-written story about real people and showing that people in wheelchairs can do anything” – Arnau Harrow (Arnau is 8)
“Me and Connor have just read your book and he loves it, such a great book. well done Brian” – Sarah Bown (Connor is 8)
“The best present I have received this Christmas” – Mike (age unknown but I believe he is over 50!)
Three months on and I am now inundated with requests to visit schools to read the books – a great opportunity to raise awareness whilst making kids laugh!! It also means we are confident we can keep this thing going!
Although Lynne and I have funded this project we do not want anything financial in return. Instead, everything we make from selling the books will be donated to two major charities that help people with spinal injuries – The Spinal Injuries Association and Back Up.
So, the message from me is that there is definitely life after spinal injury. It’s hard, but different things reward you so much. I would never have imagined I would be an author and even if the books only sell in small numbers a lot of good will come from it.
At the start of this journey I promised Charles that, one day he would see us in a real book in a real book shop. And I am not ashamed to say that I cried tears of joy when we made it happen just before Christmas.
You can contact Brian by emailing email@example.com or tel 07770 643562
You can learn more about this project and buy the books at www.grandadwheels.com
Follow Grandad Wheels on Facebook www.facebook.com/grandadwheels
Twitter @Grandad Wheels