Richard Copeland - Assistive Technology Advisor

EMAIL: [email protected]

Richard Joined Spinal Injuries Scotland in Nov 2022. Richard is based in the Queen Elizabeth National Spinal Unit

Richard's Story 

Hi my name is Richard but you can call me Rich. I was born and raised in a small town just north of Glasgow. Being born with achondroplasia a form of dwarfism I have always had to think of ways to make the world adapt to me. I think this is where my love of design and engineering came about because I would always be thinking of how things could be done better or more efficiently.

Growing up I wouldn’t let my height hold me back, often taking part in sports with my peers but always being either the last picked or the last to cross the finish line. Fortunately there were sports competitions down in England that were put on for people with dwarfism so that everyone could compete on an even playing field. I started to compete every year and in 2005 I represented United kingdom at the world dwarf games. I met people from all over the world and learned so much more about my condition that I hadn’t thought about or hadn’t experienced yet. One of these experiences was a medical condition called spinal stenosis. This is a condition where the spine starts to grow in on itself which then causes pressure on the spinal cord leading to numbness of all 4 limbs and sometimes even paralysis. As the years went on I started to experience a worsening of spinal stenosis throughout my whole spine which stopped me being able to compete at these games so instead I focused on my studies.

In 2009 I started my degree in mechanical design engineering at the University of Glasgow. I had grown up being fascinated by cars, airplanes and anything that moved so being able to study this daily was a dream. Throughout my degree I got to work on designs for many mechanical devices and in my final year I decided to do my final year project on designing a bicycle for people with achondroplasia. Being able to design something for people like me was a selfish dream come true. All was going well and I was planning what I would like to do once I graduated but my spinal stenosis was starting to affect my life so much that surgery needed to be done.

In 2013, I went in for an operation to relieve some of the pressure on my spinal cord at the cervical and thoracic level, C7-T1. I was warned of some of the complications going in but I had every faith in my surgeon that everything would be okay.

Once I woke up from my surgery I quickly realized that everything was not okay. I was completely paralysed from the neck down and nobody knew apart from me. I was taken to have an MRI to see what had happened to cause this paralysis and it was quickly found that I had suffered a spinal stroke which went all the way up to C4.

During rehab at the spinal injuries unit in Glasgow I learned how to walk again, dress myself, feed myself and generally just how to live an independent life again. I am so thankful to the team at the unit for all their help and support, without them I don’t think I would have the independence I have now.

Once I left the unit, I quickly went back to my studies as I knew I needed to try and live a ‘normal’ life as soon as possible. I had to take the rest of the year out but rejoined the following year and graduated with a first class degree in may 2015, 16 months after my stroke.

Over the past 7 years I have done many things that I would not have even considered before my injury. I started a PhD in Biomedical engineering, designing a prosthetic leg for low income countries, I started baking and quickly realized that this was a form of both mental therapy but physical therapy too and I shared my story and knowledge with many online which was a very rewarding process. I also started volunteering at the Spinal Unit through Horatio’s Garden, I met many lovely people and got to interact with patients and share my story.

Once the job opportunity for assistive technologies advisor came up at Spinal Injuries Scotland I just knew I had to apply. It combined everything I love: technology, interacting with people and being back at the Unit that gave me my independence back. I was fortunate enough to be given the job and I am now very excited to be working back at the Unit and helping patients and hopefully improving their stay there through the use of technology.