A recently paralysed NHS worker from Welling has taken on the mantle of Captain Tom, pledging to walk, for the first time aided only by his zimmer frame, a whole mile in aid of his fellow London health service workers.
Sean Ash, 39, of Wickham Road in south east London, said he struggled with suicidal thoughts when a rare condition hit in August 2020, leaving him paralysed bellow the waist.
The London Ambulance Service call handler was forced into months of rehab, and has yet to walk over 10 metres on his zimmer frame, leaving him stuck inside as the capital copes with its third lockdown.
But Sean, determined to start 2021 the right way and support his ‘exhausted’ LAS colleagues whilst being stuck at home, has set himself a seemingly impossible challenge.
The ”Xtra Mile’ is a fundraising walk which will see the 39-year-old father walk around his local area in Welling with just his zimmer frame until he completes a full mile.
Until the recent ill health Sean had been among the hard-working call handlers at the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust, answering record numbers of calls during the pandemic’s first wave.
But paralysis forced him to sit and watch as his colleagues have once again been inundated with emergency calls, and overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients in ICU units.
“All of them are shattered, day in, day out,” he said.
“I can see how my colleagues are coping, I can see things the public don’t get to, and right now they truly deserve and need our help.
“The entire NHS too, they’ve undeniably been amazing during this pandemic and they’ve gone the extra mile.”
Sean said he was inspired by Captain Tom, who’s fundraising heroics during the first lockdown raised over £30 million for the NHS, and after seeing how it had ‘lifted the nation’, he wanted to do whatever he could do to do the same.
But a few months ago, walking was out of the picture.
On August 15, 2020, Sean suffered a rare condition called Cauda Equina Syndrome, leaving him with paralysis below the waist.
He was taken to King’s College Hospital where he underwent several surgeries, doctors warned him there was a chance he could die.
Whilst the surgeons did everything they could, saving his life and preventing further paralysis, Sean was left paralysed in his feet, legs and saddle area.
What followed was three months of rehab at the Stoke Mandeville National Spinal Injuries Centre, with physio, hydrotherapy and psychologist sessions every week.
Sean told the News Shopper: “I was really depressed. I had to do everything different, my world was literally turned upside down.
“To be honest, I didn’t see the point in living, I had suicidal thoughts.
“When I went home I worried what people would think of me, were people still going to even like me, would I be able to return to work.”
But things have since improved for Sean, and most of all his mentality.
“We can be pretty negative as a nation, and I was feeling so negative after the surgery.
“I just thought one day lets do some good, show that spirit that Captain Tom showed and really go for it.”
He said, after reflecting on how the NHS is always said to ‘go the extra mile’ for us, the idea popped into his head.
After talking about Captain Tom with his friend Danny, who said Sean could be the next one out there on his zimmer frame, the plan was hatched.
Sean is going to attempt to walk ‘an extra mile’ himself, circling his local area in Welling using his zimmer frame.
‘Being reasonable’, Sean will attempt this in two 0.5 mile walks, accompanied only by his daughter who will push his wheelchair behind him for safety.
“I’ve only managed to walk 10 metres ever since the surgery, and I’ve been trapped indoors ever since, so this is something I have never done before.
“So I’m bricking it, I don’t know how tough it’s going to be until I get out there but I’ve set myself a goal and I want to achieve it.
“My plan is to be careful with every step.”
Sean’s heroic first walk will take place on Friday, January 15, with the second a week later on January 22.
A fundraising page has been set up, with all the money raised going to the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust charity, a charity Sean knows well.
Money goes towards helping the NHS trust’s staff in whatever way the charity can, as well as helping patients, and already the fundraiser has raised over double its £1,000 target.
“Working at the London Ambulance Service has opened my eyes to the stress and difficulties that our NHS staff endure for us.
“I want to help to give something back and I hope you can all rally behind me as I attempt to pull off the impossible.”
Sean added: “I’m on a phased back-to-work programme, so all things going well my first day back is on Tuesday.
“I can’t wait to see the team and help out, I’ve been so humbled by all the messages and things they’ve sent me during my time off.”
Reflecting on his mission, Sean said: “It’s great to see the public support for the NHS and pay rises.
“Whilst I agree, and it is needed, more money won’t stop them feeling exhausted every day after another draining shift.
“Maybe I can lift some people up in another away.”
You can find Sean’s fundraiser and read more here. Good luck Sean!