The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Vicky's story

Vicky Rothwell crutch
My rollercoaster recovery after my motorbike crash

Vicky Rothwell castMy family and I were taking some friends on a camping weekend to watch another friend compete at Burgham horse trials. I knew the children would struggle camping so I went out to collect ear plugs on my way home from work.

I took a slightly different route to normal. The weather had changed and it was a lot wetter than I anticipated. As I set off on my motorbike I had an immediate right turn, a taxi appeared on my side of the road. I had a brief moment to decide what to do.

I hit the brakes.

I remember lying in the road not knowing what had happened. A lovely lady came to help. I thought I had dislocated my knee. As a horse rider, I’m used to falling and have a high pain threshold. I thought it couldn’t be that bad. I felt hot. I wanted to take my helmet off so I could breathe. Panic set in.

When the paramedics arrived they cut my motorcycle jeans, there were no obvious cuts or bones sticking out. But something wasn’t right when they tried pulling my boot off. The paramedic said he could continue but I begged him to stop. I knew it felt wrong.

The initial adrenaline had worn off by the time I arrived in hospital. I was in so much pain. It was unbearable.

I underwent scans and a number of surgeons looked at the damage. It was soon apparent why I was in so much pain. There wasn’t much holding my leg on from the knee down. My leg was broken in seven places. The ligaments had snapped, taking my bones with it.

Most of the surgeons told me that they wouldn’t try to reattach my leg. My injuries were too severe. They said that amputation may be the best option. However, one surgeon was willing to try if I agreed to amputation in the event of the surgery going wrong. I decided to have the surgery, knowing it was the best chance I had to keep my leg. I needed to wait some time for him to become available, which was a difficult and painful.

It was tough waking up from eleven hours of surgery, not knowing whether my leg would still be there. Thankfully it was.

I was in hospital for a few weeks, coming to terms with what had happened. Although I didn’t lose my leg, the enormity of what I’d experienced hit me. What would it mean for my future?

I realised that leaving hospital was only the start.

My children were 11 and 13 at the time. My husband worked full time. How would I look after the kids? We had only recently moved and my family didn’t live nearby. I was to be totally reliant on my husband, children and friends. To cap it off, it was the summer holidays. The children needed entertaining, and we had a holiday planned!

Vicky Rothwell crutchWe only had an upstairs toilet at home and I was discharged in a wheelchair, with a frame on my leg to keep it straight. This meant I was dependant on my family helping me. The thought of this was absolutely humiliating! I couldn’t even get to the toilet without help.

We were fortunate in many ways. We had savings. We had a caravan in France which was all on one floor, so I could stay there and be more self-reliant for a while. Wash and clean myself. These small steps were like huge achievements and I felt empowered again. My friends wrapped their arms around me and gave me the boost I needed. I was so lucky to have them. Not family, just other injured people that taught me how to use the wheel chair and overcome limiting factors.

The biggest impact was on my mental health. I was now dependant on my kids to help me. I was a 40-year-old proud, hardworking woman. It suddenly felt so humiliating. I was ashamed. Embarrassed.

People see the physical injury but not how broken you are on the inside. The nightmares and flashbacks. Waking up in the night shaking.

I was dependant on my 12-year-old daughter. It hurt. She shouldn’t have to help her mum go to the toilet.

I’d ridden horses most of my life and been physically fit. I put weight on because I couldn’t move the same way I had before the crash. I battled with body image. I suddenly felt repulsive and ugly. I questioned why my husband would want to stay with me.

I had been due to enter the European Championships on my horse. That dream had gone. I didn’t think I would ever ride a horse properly again. It felt like everything I wanted to do had gone. I was really angry and depressed. Jealous of others.

The crash happened in July. I tried to begin the new year with a positive attitude. But I walked strangely. People thought I was drunk. One taxi driver wouldn’t let me in their cab because they thought I’d been drinking.

It was the lowest point of my life. I didn’t want to carry on. Anxiety, depression. I didn’t see the point of me anymore. I felt like a useless lump.

Vicky Rothwell rosetteThen the anger took over and something kicked in. I wasn’t going to let this accident take the rest of my life from me. I wasn’t going to be defined by my disability. I was determined that my daughter wouldn’t have to care for me forever.

I returned to work and I felt like I was contributing something to my life again. Work was also an easier place for me to be. The building had better accessibility than I had at home. I remember feeling empowered going to the toilet on my own. It felt huge.

Focusing on those moments of independence were key to my recovery. I remember the first time I got in my bath at home on my own. And washed my own hair. It felt amazing. I wept.

I kept a diary, which I found incredibly useful so I could look back and see how far I’d come. It also allowed me to focus on the good parts of my life. The fun I had with the children. They were quick to find the humour and be silly. Those moments still shine. My daughter riding around a campsite on her push bike, pulling me behind in my wheelchair. Moments in hospital that made us laugh. Those are now the stories we still tell.

My legal case went on for four years. Four years of medical assessments. Four years of reliving my accident. Four years of focusing on the things I couldn’t do. The legal side was so important for my future, but it took it out of me emotionally.

Horse riding was always where I found my peace and calm. The time I spent on my horse was precious. I set myself goals, with the hope of eventually riding again.

Four years on from the accident I became a GB champion at TREC in 2019 and Welsh Champion in 2021.

I couldn’t believe the journey I’d been on. Here I was riding long distance riding again.

Vicky Rothwell horse trialMy only regret is that I didn’t know about Day One. I wish I had someone I could have talked to about this. I only discovered the charity when another horse rider Grace Addyman spoke at an event. She spoke so powerfully about what the support from Day One meant to her.

She’s inspired me to become a Peer Support Volunteer.

I hope my experience can help empower someone else. You feel like you’re getting hit in every direction when you’re recovering from a catastrophic injury. My resilience battery often ran out. I still have moments of feeling down. I get upset. I cry. I’ve learned to let myself have that moment. Own it. Knowing it won’t last forever.

I was lucky to have a great support network around me. My road to recovery has been a rollercoaster and I'm still on it. I want to support people through the lows and help celebrate the highs, as they can sometimes be difficult to spot, and show that good things can and will still happen.

I don’t think of myself as disabled. I am a very abled person, with limitations.