A CARLISLE dad paralysed from the chest down after he fell while swinging on a tree branch is making remarkable progress as he prepares to return home.

And thousands of pounds has been raised in just four days to help fund equipment which would aid his recovery.

On the afternoon of July 6 this year Matty Thicke, from Stanwix, was walking with his wife, their young sons Daniel and Jack, two family friends and their two daughters.

Paul, who turns 32 next week, fell while swinging from a branch and landed on his head, fracturing the C6 vertebra in his neck.

He was rushed to hospital in Newcastle for an operation and since then has been receiving treatment at Middlesbrough’s James Cook Hospital, which specialises in spinal injuries.

Matty is a former soldier who served in Afghanistan and since 2013 has worked at Carlisle’s Pirelli factory.

He and his family are taking his recovery carefully, while not ruling out the possibility that he might one day walk again.

Matty’s dad Paul told The Cumberland News: “What’s happened is not something we’re dwelling on, although it’s on our minds permanently of course. It is upsetting and difficult. But Matty is so incredibly mentally unaffected by it.

“He considers himself very fortunate. He says it could have been so much worse. He’s like that.

“It’s just amazing to see him and listen to him. Every single health professional has commented on that.

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“One nurse said he’s like someone who’s come to terms with the situation after several years, and it’s only been four months.”

The accident happened when Matty was walking with his family and friends along Tarraby Lane, near Stanwix.

Paul said: “There’s a big tree branch over the footpath, about seven feet off the ground. Matty ran at it to jump up and swing on it. This is something he’s done countless times before. His legs have swung forward and his hands have somehow slipped off the branch. He landed on top of his head. He was unconscious for a few seconds then he felt ok.

“But he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t stand up. Then it dawned on him.”

Matty’s treatment in hospital has included hydrotherapy and functional electrical stimulation (FES). This involves wearing a device which stimulates the nerves. He is regaining more movement in his arms but doesn’t have full use of his hands.

Matty is due to return home soon, when his care package has been put in place.

At the beginning of this week Charlotte McNeil, a parent at Stanwix School, set up a JustGiving page to raise money for equipment to help Matty’s recovery at home. In its first four days more than £4,000 had been donated.

Paul said: “We’re very grateful to the people who set up this page and to those who have donated. The money raised will go towards hydrotherapy and FES. In Carlisle there’s no hydrotherapy, NHS or private. A cheap hydrotherapy pool is about £15,000.

“Matty’s got painful spasms going through his legs. Obviously we want to stop that pain. FES helps with that. It also helps with digestion, blood pressure, circulation and maintaining muscle. A new FES machine is about £20,000. We’re seeing if we could get a second-hand one.”

The family home has had a stair lift and ramps fitted, and new wheelchair-friendly flooring to replace carpets.

Matty and Emma got married last year and have been together for nine years. Jack is six and Daniel is three.

“It’s tough for Emma,” said Paul. “The boys are young enough to cope with it, in the way children do. But they’re missing their dad massively.

“He’s had one day back at home, a week ago. He can leave hospital for 24 hours now. He absolutely loved it. But there was nothing emotional about it for Matty. He’s ex forces - tough as old boots.

“He said ‘Basically, everything’s how it was. It’s just that I’m doing it from a sitting down position.’

“He was in the army for six and a half years; a sapper in the Royal Engineers. I’m not surprised by the way he’s responded. It’s just how he is.

“He is dependent on other people for some things. But he hasn’t complained. He can get frustrated if he’s struggling to do something with his hands. But he just keeps going and gets it done.

“The initial difficulty was having the injury from such a stupid cause. He said he’d have found it easier if it happened when he was jumping out of a helicopter.

“But after a few days in hospital he said ‘There’s been 30 people in here and nobody’s here because of something dramatic. Two people broke vertebrae falling out of bed and are wheelchair users now.’”

As for whether Matty might be able to walk again, Paul said: “The spasms in his legs show that signals are getting up and down his spinal cord.

“We’re not taking our attention away from the fact that he might not walk. But we have met somebody at the hospital with a C6 injury who was told he might not walk and he’s walking. So yes - there’s a chance.

“He is improving remarkably quickly. We’re hopeful of a recovery. There’s certainly a much better chance with the equipment we’re trying to get than without it.

“The hospital are very wary of saying it could happen. But Matty’s an amazing lad. He’s incredibly focused and driven. If anybody can get out of that chair and make that recovery, it’s going to be him.”

Shortly before the accident Matty had been promoted at Pirelli, becoming a first line leader. A company spokesman said: “Like everyone else we were shocked to hear about Matty’s accident.

“Throughout his time in hospital we have been in dialogue with Matty and his family. We’re continuing to assess how best to support him now and in the future.”

n To donate to the fundraising page for Matty, visit www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/charlotte-mcneil