A SCOTTISH student who suffered a neck injury playing rugby is preparing to undergo treatment in America early next month, after donations poured in to fund the trip.
Connor Hughes, a second-year accounts and business student at Stirling University, was injured while playing outside centre for the university against a Harris Academy FP XV in Dundee in September.
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The 19-year-old former public schoolboy, originally from Kelso, Roxburghshire, has now been discharged from the Queen Elizabeth national spinal injuries Unit in Glasgow, and will travel to San Diego, California, along with his sister Rachael in early January 2015, to participate in an intensive exercise programme at the Project Walk rehabilitation centre.
Ms Hughes, 22, will spend two months in the US training with him in order to complete a Train Your Trainer programme so that she can help her brother continue the exercise techniques when he returns home.
An initial fundraising goal of £25,000 was set to send him to the US to undergo the lengthy rehabilitation. That total has been smashed, with the pot now sitting at nearly £65,000.
Mr Hughes’ family said in a statement yesterday: “Arrangements have all been made – Connor will head to the states in early January 2015. His sister, Rachael, will be going too. This will allow Connor to continue his training regime at home.
“Milestone 2 [a funding target] was quickly reached and has let Connor purchase his own, custom-designed wheelchair.
“We have now reached Milestone 3 for purchasing of training equipment following Project Walk.
“Any further funds will be used to purchase more gym and rehabilitation equipment that Connor will need as he progresses through the programme.”
During the game on 13 September, Mr Hughes thought at first that he had broken his collar bone – but he knew the injury was “pretty bad”. Doctors discovered his C5-C6 vertebrae – two of the seven cervical vertebrae in the neck – and his spinal cord were severely damaged, leaving him with no sensation from the shoulders down.
Astonishingly, Mr Hughes has been able to keep up with his university work, thanks to a new laptop and a voice activation feature, and he still plans to graduate on schedule with his classmates. The Hughes family added that they were “pleased to be raising awareness of spinal cord injuries”.
Connor was the youngest ever boy to play for the 1st XV at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh.
His plight adds weight to the arguments of those who say the game of rugby has become unnecessarily dangerous.
Among its fiercest critics, Professor Allyson Pollock, formerly of Edinburgh University, now professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University of London, has condemned the sport, encouraging touch rugby to replace contact at school level at least, due to the injuries that can be sustained.
Earlier this year, Professor Pollock hit the headlines after releasing her book Tackling rugby, what every parent should know about injuries.
Scottish international rugby star Thom Evans was forced to quit the game aged 24, on his tenth Scotland appearance, after suffering a career-ending neck injury in a Six Nations game against Wales in 2010.
It was revealed that his cervical vertebrae had been knocked so badly out of alignment that he was a millimetre from paralysis or death. After four months of rehabilitation, he was forced to retire on 1 July 2010, after accepting medical advice.
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