Bel was just eight years old when she fell from a climbing frame and sustained a spinal cord injury that left her paralysed from the top of her shoulders down.
It was the sort of tumble that children pick themselves up from every single day. But for Bel, it had devastating consequences. She told us: “I was playing in a neighbour’s garden, I lost hold of the climbing frame and fell. I couldn’t breathe and had to be given mouth-to-mouth until the ambulance arrived. I was rushed to hospital where the doctors found I had broken my neck.”
Bel spent ten months in intensive care and, eight years later, she remains paralysed with a C3 injury. That split second in June 2010 will always stand out to Bel and her family because of the life-changing effects of her spinal cord injury. "If I had more control of my arms I would be so much more independent. Little things like brushing my hair, putting my make-up on, writing at school – all those things that I can’t do now but if I had the movement in my arms then I’d be way more independent.
Bel’s injury has also affected her ability to control her diaphragm, so whilst she has learnt to breathe via her tracheotomy, using her shoulder muscles to raise and lower her diaphragm when in her wheelchair, she is dependent on a ventilator at night to make sure she keeps breathing.
Spinal Research is the UK’s leading charity funding vital research into effective treatments for spinal cord injury.
Our research at the University of Leeds, led by Dr Ronaldo Ichiyama, and in collaboration with University of Cambridge, is studying how a potential non-invasive treatment known as neuromodulation could benefit people with a spinal cord injury. It is currently used for pain relief caused by nerve damage and for bladder control.
Neuromodulation is the stimulation of nerves using electrical devices or drug delivery systems on, or within, the body. For example, electrodes can be implanted next to the spinal cord to stimulate nerve pathways.