Brave Laurie looks to the future

LIKE any teenager Laurie Squirrell is full of schemes for the future, teases aimed at her dad and a few wisecracks.It is easy to forget why the lively, pretty moto-cross rider is in hospital and, despite breaking her back and being given a one in a million chance of walking again, it even escapes her mind.

LIKE any teenager Laurie Squirrell is full of schemes for the future, teases aimed at her dad and a few wisecracks.

It is easy to forget why the lively, pretty moto-cross rider is in hospital and, despite breaking her back and being given a one in a million chance of walking again, it even escapes her mind.

Speaking from her hospital bed at Stoke Mandeville spinal injury centre, she said: "I went on Google and typed in Laurie Squirrell and all this stuff came up about me and about this 'horror crash'.

"Usually when I've typed it in before, just to see, nothing comes up. It made me realise how serious it is - it didn't seem that bad."

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A month ago the 16-year-old, from Hitcham, was practising for her first professional race in America when the 125cc bike she was riding hit a wet patch on the track.

The bike stopped and she hit her head, knocking her unconscious, she was then thrown 15ft into the air, with her limp body folding over.

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Her father, Richard, 38, was watching from the sidelines. He said: "I saw her coming round the corner and she disappeared. I stood there for a bit longer and slowly started walking down there.

"They were pushing the bike off so I ran down there and when I got there she was out cold. I didn't move her at all but when she came round she was saying 'there's something sticking in my back' but there was nothing in her back."

In fact Laurie had broken three vertebrae, smashing another, fractured a rib and badly bruised her left lung.

She was airlifted to the University Hospital, in San Antonio, and within days she was told she was paralysed from the chest down.

She said: "That was the only time I have cried because of my injury. Other than that I haven't cried because I can't walk; I've only cried through pain or frustration.

"A couple of weeks before the accident we were talking and we said it must be the worst thing ever to know what it's like to walk and then be paralysed.

"Now it's actually happened it doesn't seem that bad. It's happened and I can't change it so I've got to get on with it."

In the Texan hospital she underwent a major five-hour long operation to pin five of her vertebrae together to make her back solid and enable her to sit up.

It was cemented together with a paste made from bone, which was taken from the nodules on the spinal column that can be felt along the back. The operation has left her with a scar along her back one-and-a-half-feet long.

She said: "The pain I was in after the operation was unbelievable. It felt like someone had hold of my spine and was yanking it.

"They couldn't give me painkillers as I stopped breathing from the drugs twice. It makes me hurt just thinking about it."

The next day after the operation Laurie was moved from bed rest. Four days later she was using a wheelchair and wearing a back brace. However, movement often made her dizzy and she had to contend with massive migraines, caused by leaking spinal fluid.

Laurie then had to deal with a huge journey home to the UK. The trip started with a three-hour ambulance ride from San Antonio to the Houston airport. There she was only allowed on the plane if she used a wheelchair. She then had to lie on a stretcher for the eight-and-a-half hour flight to Gatwick, before being taken by St John's Ambulance up to Stoke Mandeville.

However, when she returned to England she had to go back to bed-rest to stabilise her condition.

Countless bundles of flowers, chocolates, teddies, posters, cards and photographs of her racing now surround her bed. She has just been moved to another ward to concentrate on her rehabilitation, which will include visits to the gym and a hydrotherapy pool.

The fearless youngster, who has already talked about getting a quad bike, said she was looking forward to trying a wheelchair again and was keen on working out how to do wheelies.

Laurie, who has lost about a stone in weight since the accident, has gained a little feeling back and her paralysis now runs from about two inches lower than before. She can feel some movement in her stomach, particularly when her legs spasm, pulling the muscles there.

Doctors have raised the possibility of operating on her back again to reduce the number of vertebrae pinned together to two, to give her more flexibility.

However Laurie has ruled out any operations for a while, wanting to concentrate on her physiotherapy and becoming mobile enough in a wheelchair to be allowed out of hospital.

While her family will be taking Christmas to Stoke Mandeville in Aylesbury this year, Laurie is hoping she will be able to return home for her birthday, on March 13.

Her family has looked at a private hospital nearby to treat her once her rehabilitation has progressed, which will cost more than £20,000 a month.

There is also the possibility of going for pioneering types of stem-cell treatment in Colorado, Japan or Israel, although Laurie wants to wait for a few more years to see how her condition has improved.

A massive fundraising push has been launched and Laurie said: "I have been amazed at the support. I've had emails from women all over the world saying that I was their inspiration to ride. I did not realise people knew who I was. It makes you feel good that there is the support there.

"Moto-cross is such a tight-knit community, it becomes one big family and everyone comes together."

Laurie remembers little of the crash but said San Antonio's Cycle Ranch MX track was quite easy and fast.

However she had been experiencing problems getting over the "table-top" jump. As she approached it she decided to try a different line and she cut to the inside, which was when she crashed.

But she said: "I have crashed so many times, gone over the handlebars and cartwheeled down hills before and normally I just get back on the bike.

"You would think that if you break your back it would be a horrendous crash."

Laurie, who is the first British woman to gain expert status in moto-cross and had been especially invited to America to compete in the Women's Motocross Association World Cup, said she had few regrets over the crash.

However, she did feel the bike was not running well for her in the practice and she now thinks "if only" she had changed it.

She added: "The most frustrating thing is that since I started riding I have wanted to go to America but I did not even get to race."

While Laurie, who raced bikes from the age of six, said being paralysed does not scare her she does have concerns for the future.

She said: "The worst thing for me is that you always assume you are going to walk so you do not plan your life around a wheelchair.

"I now won't be able to walk down the aisle or run down the beach to the sea but that will just mean that dad will push me down the aisle and my husband will have to carry me to the beach."

She now wants to set up a charity to help people in her situation and she may also be able to run the moto-cross clothing range Socal, allowing her to stay involved in the sport.

Her father said: "I really thought it would have been the end of the world for her but she's taken it better than any of us."

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