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Road to recovery for fall victim

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Steven McPhee (Photograph supplied)

Steven McPhee does not remember falling down the stairs. Split open, from his forehead to his crown, he called to his neighbour for help.

They rushed him to hospital in the middle of the night. He had 30 stitches, but needs spinal surgery to fully recover. Until then, he is unable to work.

“It’s a pretty complex surgery. They have to go in through the front of my neck and then remove the disc between C6 and C7 and then turn me over and go through the back of my neck to put the vertebrae back in place and then graft it with a metal plate,” said the 56-year-old commercial diver.

Mr McPhee, who splits his year between Costa Rica and Bermuda, fixing moorings and doing marine survey work, added: “It can’t be aligned by chiropractor, only by surgery. It’s not going to heal itself and the vertebra’s not going to pop back in place.”

He has found no alternative to the surgery, which is expected to take about five hours and cost around $35,000; half the price of having the operation here.

He does not have medical insurance here, and does not qualify for it in Costa Rica, where he is in the process of getting his residency.

As such, his sisters Robin Sidders and Nancy Wainwright encouraged him to set up a fundraising page on gogetfunding.com. So far it has raised $5,400.

Mr McPhee moved to Playa Hermosa two years ago.

He thinks a misstep on the steep stairs leading to his loft bedroom might have caused his accident in July.

“It looked like I had fallen down the stairs, hit my head and walked over to the kitchen and passed out there because there was a lot of blood,” he said.

He was taken by ambulance to the Red Cross clinic before being moved to a hospital for X-rays and a CT scan.

“They were concentrating on my head because that’s where they could see the damage,” he said.

“The most severe and life-threatening damage was not detected.”

During the next week, he suffered massive swelling and bruising to his face and head. He saw double out of his right eye, and had little to no feeling in his right arm; his neck was crooked, tilting to the right — all signs of further, significant damage.

It was recommended he see a physiotherapist to loosen locked muscle.

“I was doing that for three or four weeks and nothing was changing. I made an appointment to see an orthopaedic surgeon and he said to immediately stop physiotherapy and get an MRI.”

Scans showed he needed surgery.

“There are seven vertebrae in your cervical spine and number C6 was really out of place and fractured and twisted and out of place by 8mm,” Mr McPhee said.

“I’m in a lot of pain. The doctor has told me that any further jolt or fall could send the vertebrae into my spinal cord, leaving me paralysed or worse.”

He was alone the night of the accident.

“I remember nothing about the fall,” he said. “I was in bed around 10.30. Then I was calling to my neighbour; that was about 1.30.”

He does not remember getting up.

“I don’t remember anything at all. I don’t remember falling. I don’t remember hitting my head. I’ve tried piecing it together and I can’t figure out what happened.”

He said Andres Angulo Garcia, “a well-respected orthopaedic and trauma surgeon” who specialises in spinal surgery, is confident that the operation will be successful if performed this year.

Recovery will take six to 12 months.

“He said I’m lucky that I didn’t crack my skull or die from a broken neck,” he said. “Basically, the neck is broken; the vertebra is fractured and when it’s fractured it’s considered a broken neck.

“It becomes harder to move the vertebra back into place after it’s been set the wrong way for too much time. It’s hard to ask people [for money], but I realise I don’t have any other options.”

“The healthcare in Costa Rica is top notch and the hospitals are all up to date and modern,” said the avid diver whose book, A Guide to Collecting Old Bermuda Bottles, was published in 2008.

“I really like Costa Rica; there’s a lot of land.

“It’s got lots of wildlife and open spaces. There’s also a lot of really good diving here and it’s not too expensive to live here.”

MRI scan(Photograph supplied)
Steven McPhee (Photograph supplied)