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My story and why research is important

When Andrew Downes broke his back in 2009 his experience convinced him of the importance of research to benefit spinal injury patients. Here’s Andrew’s story in his own words.

After suffering increasing back and joint pain as a result of ankylosing spondylitis, in 2009 at the age of 59, my hip gave way, causing me to fall and break my back in two. I was taken to hospital and left in a wheelchair. After 15 hours, I was X-rayed, but the doctor on duty had no idea what it showed.

I had to wait another 10 hours, when I was given an MRI scan. That clearly showed a clean break in the spine. By this time, of course, my legs were completely paralysed due to the bleed caused by my not being immobilised within four hours of being brought to hospital.


I was then transferred to Birmingham Royal Orthopaedic Hospital. A brilliant surgeon, Mel Grainger, joined my spine together. After a week of recuperation, I was transferred to the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville, where I spent nine months of rehabilitation.

The entire course of treatment, nursing, and in particular, physiotherapy, was quite brilliant… the research being done for all spinal injury patients is essential

My family and I decided that as soon as possible, perform a a series of concerts to help raise funds for the research. I left Stoke Mandeville in July 2010, and after three months of getting used to being at home in a wheelchair (with my wonderful wife Cynthia to look after me), I took up the Horn Concerto piece again.

I completed this large work for solo French Horn and Symphony Orchestra within six months, and we decided to put on the first performance in Birmingham Town Hall in 2012. All profits would go to spinal injuries charities.

Since then, we’ve mounted a number of concerts and recordings of my music, in aid of spinal injury research, and we hope to put on more such events as time goes on.

I’m pleased that Stoke Mandeville Spinal Research (SMSR) and SIA are working together to raise awareness of the importance of spinal injury research, and I’d implore more people to get involved.

Andrew Downes is a composer and SMSR supporter