You’ll probably hear Tony before you see him. He’s the vibrant Spinal Injuries Scotland volunteer whose arrival usually precedes laughter from patients and staf fat the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital’s spinal unit. But how does a man who can’t walk keep his spirits, and the spirits of others, so high?

Here, the 35-year-old from Wishaw, Lanarkshire shares his backstory, and the secret to winning at life after a spinal cord injury.
In 2005, Tony was driving a fully-loaded dumper truck around a building site. While manoeuvring the machine it suddenly plunged forwards over a blind ledge. The labourer, who was strapped into his seat, tumbled down the ledge until the force of the six-tonne truck rolled on top of him and broke his neck.

Opening up about his life-changing workplace injury, Tony “just knew” he’d never walk again.

“I remember arguing with my pal at the time”, he said. “I kept telling him it felt like my legs were above my head and he said ‘What are you on about, they’re where they should be - you’ll be fine’. But it was in that moment I just knew I’d never walk again.”

Tony was right.

The crash broke his C6 and C7 vertebrates resulting in loss of movement and feeling in his legs. However it also fractured his C1 - the tiny bone that connects the skull with the spine. This affected the mobility of his hands but, mercifully, because it did not break fully Tony maintained the use of his arms.

Sadly, at the time, Tony did not see the silver-lining and sank into a deep depression. He said: “I remember leaving the hospital at the time and just being angry. I was angry for the accident happening. Angry I couldn’t walk. Then I’d simply get angry at myself for being angry. I was stuck in a vicious cycle and I stayed there for two years where I didn’t go out and didn’t see people.”

To this day, Tony doesn’t know what changed in him – but something did. And it “dragged his butt out of the depression” and one morning he remembers just waking up feeling like a new man wanting to seize the day.

He sprang into his chair, he reached out to friends, he reached out to Spinal Injuries Scotland, he swapped alcohol for the gym, he swapped sitting in front of the TV to getting outdoors with his dog Chico, he joined a wheelchair rugby team, he started going to Ibrox again to watch Rangers play, he attended concerts again like Avicii at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow.

Tony says that for him, what he realised then was that the only thing that had been holding him back was himself.
He said: “To this day I still feel lucky - but I think a lot of it is about choice."

“You could choose to be negative and spend your life feeling unlucky at having an accident and feeling unlucky at not walking.
“Or you could choose to be positive and feel lucky at what you do have.

“I really do feel lucky because if my C1 broke instead of fractured then I’d not be able to use my arms - I might even have died.
“Obviously my life has changed but it has not stopped - it’s just taken a different path.

“In some ways it’s even a better path I think if the accident hadn’t happened then there’s a good chance I probably would have just worked during the week, sat in the pub at weekends and wasted my life away. Now I’m healthier, I’m helping people and I’m still able to do things I used to.

“The only difference is that now when I go to Ibrox I’m sitting right at pitch level next to the dug-outs rather than up in the stands!
“After going as low as you can and coming out the other side, I can assure you – just like all of us at Spinal Injuries Scotland can – that you don’t need legs to move in life, just a positive attitude.

“Too many people worry about their physical condition when their accident happens. But just let the doctors worry about that. ll you should focus on is your mental health because if your head is in the right place then you’re never really disabled.”