A trip to the beach 11 years ago changed Matthew Bassett’s life forever. Now a TV presenter, he is determined to show life does not stop after a spinal cord injury.
It started like any other day but it became one I would never forget.
I was 19 and I remember the sun was out when I arrived at the beautiful seaside town of Broad Haven in Pembrokeshire on Friday, 13 May 2011. The sea looked gloriously inviting.
Swim shorts on, shoes off. I ran down the beach, dived and hit my head on a sandbank.
The chaos that followed was unforgettable.
Panic rushed through my body as I realised I couldn’t move my arms and legs and I was in danger of drowning.
It’s staggering how long a person can hold their breath, knowing that life could be taken away with one more crashing wave.
I prayed, thought about my family, and exhaled.
Peace replaced fear, the waves became calm, and I closed my eyes.
As you can tell by reading this, you know I was saved.
That first breath out of the sea was the sweetest, most life-affirming breath of oxygen.
By that time, I remember a substantial gathering of nosey people trying to find out what had happened on the usually peaceful beach.
After being pulled from the sea, it was decided that an air ambulance would be my best way back to a hospital.
It was my first time in a helicopter, and all I saw were the rotor blades above my head, they were mesmerising and almost sent me to sleep.
However, the paramedic wouldn’t let me drift off.
“Keep talking to me, Matthew,” was refreshing to hear actually – I usually get told to be quiet.
After 20 minutes, we arrived at University Hospital of Wales, in Cardiff.
My mum met me as I entered A&E. I can’t imagine how she felt when a doctor explained that I’d got a suspected broken neck.
I don’t recall much of that evening, a mix of beeps, buzzers and nurses telling me it would be alright.
After various scans, my neck was put into a rigid collar. Tape was also put over my forehead and stuck to the bed to prevent me from doing further harm by moving.
A doctor then came, and broke the news that I had fractured a bone in my neck and would require an operation. An injury that high can often affect all four limbs, called tetraplegia.
There would be a high chance that I would never walk again.
I can’t recall how I felt hearing that, and after all the commotion of the day, it didn’t hit me until days after.
The next day I was booked in for an early morning appointment in theatre to fix me up.
After a couple of weeks of recovery, I was transferred to Rookwood Hospital’s spinal rehab unit in Llandaff, Cardiff, to learn how to live again as a person with no movement in my legs, uncontrollable bowels and a catheter.
A nasty pressure sore kept me in bed for three months. During that time, I watched thousands of house renovations on TV’s Homes Under the Hammer.
Getting up into a wheelchair was the next challenge.
Goals were set every month, to see me through to being discharged. Things such as getting into a car and getting in and out of bed.
Finally, after 10 months of hard work, it was time to go home. Strangely, not the same home I left on Friday, 13 May, but somewhere new.
It felt weird going to a new property, but at the same time, it was a fresh start.
The house in Pencoed, Bridgend, had to have a couple of adaptations: A ramp to the front door, an automatic key fob fancy door and a wet room.
I missed the hospital. It was too quiet at home, with no beeps, no loud snoring, no regular tea served and no all-day attention. Being at home was when the real rehab started, and it was hard.
Life felt great when I was with friends and family, but strip it back to when nobody was around, and I honestly couldn’t work out how to achieve a full life.
However, being given more care hours to have a personal assistant with me gave me more time to practice life skills that would aid independence.
Things such as emptying my catheter bag meant I would be able to pop out and about on my own and have a few beers without needing to ask anyone for assistance.
Sometimes it takes one positive boost to be a catalyst for change. For me, independently going to the loo was just that.
“Life doesn’t stop after a spinal cord injury” is a quote that has been drilled into me ever since my accident. Understanding that took a while.
But once I got my head into gear, I taught myself to get into bed, travelled independently on trains and started flying again.
In 2014, I was offered a job as an independent living advisor on the same spinal ward I was treated on. I was absolutely delighted.
Nine years on, I still work there and continue to chat to the patients about life after injury.
It’s a job I cherish and take seriously, as I know how important it is to see and hear that there is a fulfilling life after injury.
Yes, life looks different and can be difficult at times, but on the flip side, it can also bring the most unexpected and beautiful surprises.
When I was a patient, I met a gorgeous student nurse called Amanda who had the best hair washing technique ever.
Whenever she was on shift, I would ask to have a hair scrub and have a little talk with her.
Sadly, when her placement was over, I didn’t see her for a few years, then in 2017, we bumped into each other and went for a few Christmas drinks.
We haven’t stopped seeing each other since.
We fell in love, and got married in April 2021. She was the most beautiful bride on the most beautiful day.
Since my accident, I decided to say yes to any opportunity that came my way, something that has seen me become a TV presenter on BBC Wales’ Weatherman Walking.
I feel so lucky to travel around Wales making great little films showcasing that it doesn’t matter if you need a wheelchair to get around, you can still have an adventure.
My story could’ve easily ended on the day I had my accident, but it didn’t. It was, however, the start of a new chapter.
Whatever you’re going through, grab every special moment you can.
Understand that hard times come, but they’re not here to stay and see a bright future ahead.
You’ve got this.