A KEEP-FIT enthusiast was left paralysed on a hospital ventilator for nine months after a freak accident during a pole dancing class – and is now only able to communicate via a computer that "reads" her eye movements.
Debbie Plowman, 32, suffered devastating injuries when she fell from only one foot off the ground while hanging upside-down on the pole, breaking her neck and severely damaging her spinal cord.
She is still on a ventilator to help with her breathing.
Tragedy struck a fortnight before Christmas last year when Mrs Plowman, of Haxby on the outskirts of York, was performing a "cross-ankle release" at the class she was attending in the city.
She was taken to York Hospital and transferred to Hull Royal Infirmary for surgery on her spine and head. She was then transferred by air ambulance to the spinal injury unit at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, where she remains.
She can only communicate through a computer that tracks her eye movements, and faces a further six months of treatment at the Lascelles neurological rehabilitation unit in Harrogate.
Now her plight has inspired a massive fundraising drive by relatives and friends, including a Three Peaks walk, a sports dinner at York Racecourse this autumn and a sponsored ascent of Kilimanjaro next autumn.
Money raised will go to a trust being set up to help Mrs Plowman, and also for Spinal Research UK. The former Tesco worker and mother of Jack, five, and Ruby, two, had been doing pole-dancing exercise classes for two years before the accident.
The accident has sent shockwaves through the national fraternity of women who have taken up pole dancing as an aerobic exercise.
Mrs Plowman's husband, Chris, an electrician, said: "Fortunately, one of her friends was a nurse and knew what to do, otherwise I think she would have died."
He got a call to say Debbie had been hurt and rushed to the accident and emergency department at York Hospital where he was directed to intensive care.
"The whole thing felt surreal. You feel that these things happen to other people and not to you," he added.
"This has been a heartbreaking experience for me and my two children. Debbie was and still is a fantastic mum, an amazingly beautiful wife and the most caring and honest person anyone could want to meet.
"We have been married for seven years and been together for nearly 14 years. We make a great team, and are a very close couple who are best mates.
"Without the support of my large, strong and close family, and brilliant friends, this would all have been too much for anyone to cope with."
His wife still had sensations of feeling from her head to her feet, and had recently had some movement in her neck, shoulders and abdomen, but was suffering terrible pains in her arms.
But there is no evidence of any brain damage and because she has not severed her spinal cord it is possible she may regain some movement.
Friend Darren Wheatley said: "It's terrible, usually she is just motionless in bed and can't move. She has sensitivity – she can feel you touching her but can't move or respond.
"As far as I know they won't be able to do a full assessment on her progress for another 18 months, to see how far she has come on.
"Sometimes I come in and she would be laughing at something someone has said, but other times I've seen her she has been sobbing."
The family is setting up the Debbie Plowman Happy Faces Trust to buy a specially-adapted vehicle for her to travel in. A major fundraising event was already being planned for 2011 – a sponsored ascent of Kilimanjaro, by 35 people.
The biggest event to happen this year is due to be a major sports dinner at York Racecourse on October 23, with former international Rugby League and Rugby Union wing John Bentley as guest speaker.