A family ski day at the Lecht in March 2018 was a chance for quality family time ahead of preparing to work a week remotely out of the CIC hut on Ben Nevis. One final ski run without the boys offered Dave a chance to link some turns in the deeper snow at the side of the piste. We know from eye witness accounts that Dave tumbled during a fall but eventually got to his feet albeit holding his head and neck. Dave knew he had a significant injury but was able to work with ski patrol and understood the need to be fully immobilised for the journey to hospital.
During the fall the back of Dave’s neck had struck a snow fence post, sticking slightly out of the deep snowpack. Hospital scans confirmed that he had fractured C6 vertebrae in his neck. As he spoke to colleagues after the incident it was clear the fracture was stable, the spinal cord was undamaged and all being well, a full recovery would be expected once the fracture was given time to heal. The cruellest blow however was yet to come and several hours later, Dave suffered a serious brain stem stroke, caused by the severe whiplash of the initial trauma to his upper neck. Critically, Hannah was the first to recognise the subtle signs and raise the alarm.
It is difficult to comprehend the moments when Dave gained consciousness after the stroke. A ventilator controlled his breathing, he was unable to move or speak, but he was fully cognitive. We can only wonder at the sense of feeling when communication was first established by purposeful eye movements. The stroke had left Dave in the grips of ‘Locked in Syndrome’ and fully reliant on a ventilator.
From this moment, with the most incredible support from his wife and unequalled personal determination and resilience, Dave has been fighting back. Regardless of the storm that rages he heads towards a new summit, each day finding strength to make the smallest gains to recover a quality of life. Now in Sheffield, at a specialist rehab centre, he is free of the ventilator. He will turn his head to see you enter the room, and slowly raise a hand as a greeting. Still no spoken words, but patiently he will spell out a sentence on a screen with eye movement, to be spoken by electronic software. Frustrating for a man who delights in conversation and has such a recognisable Belfast accent. As yet Dave cannot stand unaided or walk, but there is strength in his body and he can achieve movement with support from others during his busy rehab program. He is still fighting for every possible gain and he is still inspiring us all.
Collectively the mountaineering and outdoor community are getting together through the ‘inspired-by-Dave’ crowd funding campaign, to see what we can do to help build resources to support Dave’s rehab and future. To the man that has given us so much, we intend to show him how he continues to inspire us, through our fund-raising events and activities, or just through giving. If you would like to help support Dave’s future, then please visit www.gofundme.com/inspired-by-dave and get inspired.