Two friends swim length of English Channel for Northampton man who suffered life-changing injury
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Two friends recently swam the length of the English Channel and raised around £2,000 for a Northampton man who suffered a life-changing injury while on holiday.
A fundraising page was set up at the end of last year to make Tom Spina’s home accessible enough for him to return.
The 47-year-old went on holiday last April with his wife Sophie and son Gabriel, who was eight at the time.
As Sophie has stage four follicular lymphoma, the family had to shield during the pandemic and after restrictions were lifted, the three of them went on holiday to Cyprus.
However on April 9, 2022, Tom hit his head on the bottom of a swimming pool and had to have a life-saving operation in Cyprus – with only a 30 percent chance of survival.
The 47-year-old had experienced fractures to his neck, which caused a spinal cord injury and compromised a main artery, meaning he could not move his arms or legs.
The water from the swimming pool had already begun to affect his lungs, and the Cyprian hospital did not believe the injuries and complications were survivable.
Following the call to family to tell them about Tom’s accident, phone calls were then made to say goodbye.
However, Tom was then transferred to a specialist hospital on the other side of Cyprus, who agreed to operate and attempt to save him – though there was a risk of compromising his remaining artery, which he would not have survived.
Tom believed it was better to “die trying” than not undergo the surgery at all, and survived the 13-hour operation.
He remained on a ventilator in intensive care for the next several weeks.
Following a month in hospital in Cyprus, Tom was airlifted back to Northampton where he spent another month in the intensive care unit and a further two waiting for a rehabilitation bed at the National Spine Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital – where received long-term physiotherapy.
Tom now resides at a different hospital for further rehabilitation and preparations are underway for him to come home.
Extensive adaptations are in the process of being made to Tom’s family home in Hunsbury, which has so far included putting a ramp on the driveway, widening the doorways throughout the entire house, and installing a lift and a hoist.
As well as an accessible vehicle, an electric wheelchair and further rehabilitation and physiotherapy, this will enable Tom to lead as independent a life as possible – which he is determined to do.
The fundraising page has surpassed the £50,000 target and currently stands at more than £59,000, which is needed to facilitate all the changes to Tom and his family’s lives.
Two individuals who wanted to contribute to the fundraising total were friends Cheryl Harrington and Jessica Cardoso from Hunsbury.
Cheryl is a friend of Sophie’s, and their friendship blossomed as their sons Harry and Gabriel have grown up as best friends since they met at nursery.
When Tom’s fundraising page was first set up, Cheryl and Jessica knew they wanted to do something significant to raise money.
They wanted to be pushed outside of their comfort zones, and were inspired to swim the length of the English Channel after they saw someone had rowed the length of all Formula 1 tracks for the cause.
The pair knew swimming 21 miles between them was significant but doable, and they decided to do it in the pool at Virgin Active Collingtree.
After making the decision at the end of January to go ahead with the fundraiser, they had a couple of months of training ahead – which Cheryl knew she needed as the furthest she had swam was 400 metres as a 10-year-old.
The first hurdle was beating her younger self and during the first session, Cheryl swam “more than 80 tiring laps”.
From that point on, she and Jessica swam once a week and increased the length each time.
They completed four miles in one go by the end of February and six miles by the end of March, which took five-and-a-half hours.
“This gave us a taste of what it was going to be like,” said Cheryl. “And we began to question what we had signed ourselves up for.”
Cheryl and Jessica completed the challenge on April 22, which took from 8.30am until 5.30pm to complete 10-and-a-half miles each.
Cheryl said: “We had no idea what to expect and how long it would take as we’d only swam six miles at once ahead of the challenge.
“Our adrenaline kicked in and we kept a consistent speed for each mile.”
With only minimal breaks for the toilet, energy bars and lunch, the 21 miles was completed in nine hours.
Tom and Sophie are extremely grateful for Cheryl and Jessica’s efforts to raise money for the cause, which has added around £2,000 to the total.
Tom has been unable to speak to and see people over the past year since the accident, but the pair were moved to receive a voice recording from him the day before the swim.
He wished them well and showed gratitude for their fundraising, which Cheryl says was “very emotional”, and Sophie attended the pool to see her friends finish the swim.
Donations to Tom’s fundraiser, which will see him return home to a place he can be independent and back with his family, are still being encouraged.