Paralysed Burgess Hill man ‘not ready to leave’ support network

Simon Gray has been paralysed from the chest down since he broke his neck in 2012. He is being moved to Peacehaven, away from his social support network.'Pic Steve Robards SUS-150113-174152001
Simon Gray has been paralysed from the chest down since he broke his neck in 2012. He is being moved to Peacehaven, away from his social support network.'Pic Steve Robards SUS-150113-174152001

Since breaking his neck in 2012, Simon Gray has suffered paralysis from the chest down, anxiety and depression.

Though he grew up in Newhaven, he has built a support network in Burgess Hill, which he values hugely due to an intense ‘fear of being alone’.

“I’m terrified of being alone, especially at night,” Simon explained.

His social circle in Burgess Hill has made it easier to ‘regain something of what I used to be’, Simon explained.

“A lot of people see someone in a wheelchair and instantly assume they need to talk to me like I’m a five year old. I once got a ‘well done you’ for using my debit card.

“My social circle and the carers here have made it easier for me.”

As his stay at Ernest Kleinwort is temporary, East Sussex County Council plan to move Simon to a bungalow in Peacehaven.

“This is apparently to make me more independent, whereas it is in effect making me more dependent on carers and virtually a prisoner in my own home due to its location,” Simon said.

Though he wants to live independently eventually, he wants it to be at the right time and in the right place.

Simon continued: “I know no-one in Peacehaven at all, and even if I had the confidence to get on a bus, the nearest stop is 0.6km away from me - which I physically couldn’t do on the hilly terrain. I’m anxious of social situations, or anything new even if I’d done it before becoming disabled.”

His friends regularly visit him in Ernest Kleinwort, but many, especially those who don’t drive, would struggle to see him in Peacehaven.

A spokesman for The Disabilities Trust said: “It is important that when he does move that the property is suitably adapted for Simon’s needs and that considerations such as proximity to family, friends and existing social networks, as well as good accessible public transport to enable him to travel to meet friends are taken into account.”

He also fears he will not be able to use the kitchen. Simon’s GP and his therapist wrote letters to support his desire to stay in Burgess Hill.

An East Sussex County Council spokesman said: “Although we are not at liberty to discuss the details of individual cases due to laws of confidentiality, we consider that we have acted appropriately in this case and are meeting our statutory duty to provide care and support. If any of our clients remain dissatisfied with the support we are offering, there is a formal process which allows them to challenge the actions we are taking.”

Simon has appealed the decision to move him.

Simon broke his neck in a ‘simple slip down three stairs’.

He doesn’t remember the three to four days he was lying on the ground following the fall, until he was found.

His friend noticed his curtains closed during the day and, after checking with a nearby pub if they had seen him, used a spare key and bolt cutters to get through the front door.

Simon first remembers seeing black bars in his peripheral vision.

“I’d been put on such strong painkillers that I didn’t notice I couldn’t move my limbs,” Simon said.

Initially all four limbs were paralysed but now he has full use of his right arm and partial use of his left. His spinal injury caused osteoporosis of the legs, meaning a fall or a bump can easily cause a fracture.

Simon is at a high risk of autonomic dysreflexia which can lead to fatal hyperextension, seizure and hemorrhage.

During rehabilitation Simon also fractured his right tibia whilst transferring from bed to wheelchair.

He continued: “One day I was a person who loved walking, cycling and exercise, rooting around in second hand bookshops, photography, socialising.

“It’s now pretty hard to find a pub with wheelchair access, let alone a toilet.”

Simon described himself as slightly impulsive before the accident.

“I lost my job in Brighton and took up an offer of one in Los Cristianos, Tenerife. When that finished I was planning to head to Bodø in Norway for another position, just as the accident happened,” he said.

“Now I’m pretty much anxious of everything, it’s taken me nearly a year here to get me to go over the road to the small shops on my own.”