Innovative designs help spinal patient

Posted on in Services, Staff

When a cycling accident left Michael Bonney without the use of his arms, legs or lungs he was determined not to give up.

Michael Bonney with Tony Alton and Ian Boddy from the medical physics department at James Cook

Michael Bonney with Tony Alton and Ian Boddy from the medical physics department at James Cook

Within just six weeks the managing director of Orange Mountain Bikes was able to operate an iPad using a purpose built mouth stick specially designed for him by the medical physics department at The James Cook University Hospital.

Following his accident Michael spent three months on the spinal high dependency unit at the Middlesbrough hospital’s Golden Jubilee Spinal Cord Injuries Centre but was keen to regain some independence so he contacted the medical physics team and challenged them to help him.

Together they have come up with a range of gadgets to help make life easier for Michael including a specially adapted drinks bottle holder and ventilator tube supports.  “I don’t consider myself as disabled, I consider myself as different,” said Michael, 55, of Cumbria.

“When you have to ask people for everything it’s very frustrating but these gadgets give you a bit more control and now I want to let other people know what is out there to help them get on with their lives.”

Michael suffered life-changing injuries after crashing his road bike during the Eden Valley Epic sportive in March. Doctors at the scene carried out CPR for 45 minutes until the air ambulance arrived but scans revealed a complete fracture of the C3 vertebrae and subsequent spinal cord damage which has left him paralysed from the neck down.

Despite everything Michael is determined to move forward with his life and just weeks after his accident he married wife Linzi in the hospital chapel.

He has made remarkable progress with the help of the hospital’s spinal experts, physiotherapists and the medical physics team, who have helped him develop a number of wheelchair aids.

“The water bottle means I can drink when I want to without having to bother anyone else,” said Michael. “The mouth stick – a touch screen stylus adapted to work with a standard mouth holder – means I can watch sports channels on the iPad and keep in touch with friends.

“But it’s not easy – it took me two hours to take a photo and put it on Facebook because I dropped the mouth stick six times! And when I type I can only hit one letter at a time.”

Michael has to be permanently attached to a ventilator by a trachea tube so he can breathe which makes moving about in a wheelchair uncomfortable and high risk.

“You would not believe how much difference the trachea tube support makes. It’s more comfortable because the trachea does not move about as much. It should also mean that one less person is required when operating the hoist.”

He said the next challenge is to devise something to enable him to change TV channels himself.  “Part of what I do is product design and development and this has given me the confidence to know I can still take a project on.   A lot of people just give up but I want to let people know that there are some fantastic resources out there.”

After three months in spinal HDU Michael has recently moved to a specialist rehabilitation unit with the ultimate aim of getting back home.

Fellow bike riders have launched the ‘Ride for Michael’ campaign to help him achieve this. For details visit