TODAY |

'I couldn't feel anything' - Michael Fatialofa opens up on miracle recovery journey

After three months of global media attention former Hurricanes lock Michael Fatialofa has broken his silence on the career-ending spinal injury which rocked the rugby world.

Your playlist will load after this ad

The former Hurricanes lock broke his neck at the start of the year. Source: 1 NEWS

As countries come to grips with the impact of coronavirus, Fatialofa has effectively been in lockdown long before Covid-19 even became an issue.

He has spent the last three months in hospitals following the 'freak accident' while playing for Worcester Warriors in the English Premiership.

"I wasn't even trying to be a hero or anything," he told 1 NEWS. "I think it was just the perfect mix - my head was in a bad position. His hip was there and it was just one of those things."

He remembers his whole body "shutting down" after being tackled but remained conscious as team medical staff rushed to him on the field.

"From my neck down, I couldn't feel anything or move anything," Fatialofa told 1 NEWS.

"It was pretty scary, and I was really short of breath because, what I did, was the spinal cord was compressed and anything below the spinal cord is affected and that includes my lungs and I was just kinda trying to breathe."

Scans revealed a fracture in his C4 vertebrae as well as a spinal contusion, a serious condition which causes compression on the spine.

Fatialofa had not spoken publicly before this because the painful memories of not being able to move, talk or even cough for weeks was too difficult to relive.

"It's a time that's tough to think about," he said of the two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit at London's St Mary's Hospital.

"My roommates were victims of gun violence and stabbings and I could hear everything going on. Just all the beeping and no sleep. It's something I don't really like thinking about now that I'm past it.

"I heard some people die next to me. It was quite traumatising. All I could hear was a beeper go off, everyone rush in and then I have a new roommate the next day."

Despite medication following surgery he experienced "unbearable pain".

For the first month, he barely slept with nurses required to reposition his body every two hours to avoid pressure ulcers.

Now based in the UK, former Hurricanes team-mates Loni Uhila and Sam Lousi were filmed massaging his limbs to help while he was told to prepare for life in a wheelchair.

It effectively ended any hope the 2016 Super Rugby champion had of playing again.

"I was pretty scared," he said. "I just didn't want to be a burden to my wife and family. But then I thought I'd just leave it with God and see what happens."

His wife, Tatiana, whom he met during high school, was by his side every day after the incident and documented his "miracle" recovery on social media which started movement returning to one of his fingers.

"When I got that one finger, I didn't wanna go back to sleep," Fatialofa said.

"I thought 'I might wake up and then it's gone and I can't move it again,' so it was just mind games in the hospital."

He was transferred to a specialist spinal clinic at the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital in Aylesbury where he has spent the last five weeks, responding well to treatment and making encouraging progress.

Doctors are astounded he is now able to walk unassisted.

"Walking is the tip of the iceberg with these types of injuries," he added. "My hands are probably the hardest thing for me - getting my hands functioning.

"My left hand pretty much does nothing."

His internal organs have also been hugely affected by the injury, problems he expects to encounter for the rest of his life.

Adding to the hardship, England's Covid-19 lockdown has cut off all visitors from the hospital, an hour Northwest of London, including Fatialofa's wife.

His contract with Worcester ends in July while he plans to remain in the UK to complete his recovery before returning to New Zealand.

He also plans to take Tatiana on a honeymoon which was originally set two weeks after the incident.