Paralysed Billericay Town goalie Nick Morgan' big battle to walk again
IT CAN take a lot to make a man "cry like a baby", but the floodgates opened for Nick Morgan when he realised his life would never be the same again.
The once-towering Billericay Town goalkeeper has faced almost every emotion and setback during the nightmare three months since he was paralysed following an assault in Brentwood.
His head smashed against a kerb, injuring his spinal cord, after he was attacked in William Hunter Way, behind Brentwood's celebrity hotspot, the Sugar Hut.
It finally hit home for Nick in December as he began his rehabilitation at the National Spinal Injuries Centre, based at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
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The Gazette joined Nick on Friday during his first week of therapy, the same week he celebrated his 26th birthday.
Speaking for the first time about the ordeal, the 6ft 8in shot-stopper said: "The first two days I was like a big baby here, crying my eyes out. I felt lost. I felt kind of like I shouldn't be here, I didn't feel comfortable in these surroundings.
"Now I have got my head around it. Since I have been here, it has just kind of hit home because you see all of the other patients all in their wheelchairs.
"In the gym you see everyone has different injuries at different stages and have different exercises. It does hit home and you start thinking, will I ever get back to walking and some kind of normality?"
Up until that fateful day on October 28, Nick's life revolved around football and while he would love to return to the pitch, his priorities today have had to change as he fights for movement to return to his body.
Nick, who played for Billericay Town in the Ryman League Premier Division and spent around five years of his teens at West Ham United, said: "My big end goal is to walk out this hospital. That is what I want to do, I want to walk out of here, I don't want to be wheeled out, but if it gets to a stage where I have to swallow it and be in a wheelchair, I'll have to deal with it.
"I would love to play football again. It is what I have been doing since I was a little kid. But you have to be realistic. There is no point me sitting here saying 'I would love to play football again', really my main goal should be just to walk. Anything after that is a bonus.
"When things like this happen, it puts it all into perspective.
"You take life for granted when you are fit and able, and this gives you a kick up the a**e."
Nick had been supporting his football ambitions with his day job as a lorry driver, but without knowing exactly what kind of movement will return, a new career is just one of the many changes to his life that he may face in years to come.
Where he will live, finding a girlfriend and whether he will ever have children have also flashed through his mind during the hours of thinking time he has had at hospital.
"One of the main things in my head was having a family and stuff like that," Nick said thoughtfully. "Not just that but being in a wheelchair.
"Not a lot of girls are going to want to go out with someone in a wheelchair, so it would be a lot harder to find a partner."
Another thought which Nick is clearer about is that he will never return to the Sugar Hut, where he had been celebrating a friend's birthday before his life changed forever as they left the High Street club and headed to a car to go home.
With the incident still clear in his mind, Nick said: "I knew mentally I had been paralysed. The feeling is horrible, it just went numb from my head down and I was trying to move my body and nothing was moving.
"Obviously, if the kerb was not there, I probably would not be here. But that is all ifs and buts.
"The reason I am paralysed is my face hit the kerb, with the impact pushing my head back on to my spine."
What came next was the flashing lights as he headed to Queen's Hospital in Romford and an operation to reduce the swelling in his spine, before limited movement began to return, first to his right arm, then to his legs and to his fingers.
Nick, however, has suffered his fair share of setbacks since he arrived at the National Spinal Injuries Centre on December 20, with a bedsore to his lower back, followed by a feverish infection from an operation to fit a catheter.
He has also had to cope with being reliant on nurses. While his lowest moment came on Christmas Day when his family were forced to have a specially planned dinner without him because his wheelchair had not arrived as expected, leaving his mother "crying her eyes out".
Nick, who has had parents John and Jackie Morgan, his three brothers and the rest of the family by his side throughout, said: "It is the little things. Like scratching your face, using a phone or picking your nose – little things that you take for granted. I can lay there with an itch on my face and I can't scratch it. I have got to call the nurse to scratch my face.
"I think a lot of people suffer embarrassment, being naked in front of the nurses and being washed, getting cleaned up, but it doesn't bother me. It is still hard though because your whole life is in the hands of the nurses."
Still looking positively to the future and with the typical determination of a sportsman, Nick has now turned his focus to his rehabilitation, but one so different to what he has ever been through in the football physiotherapy room.
He said: "The good thing is the physios here are really excited about my legs and there is a pretty good chance I can walk again because of the strength in them.
"They are worried about my arms. My shoulders are getting tight. Once they get too tight they are kind of hunched and it affects them trying to do physio on my arms."
With Nick's relentless determination and the support of his family, friends, teammates and the community as a whole – who have all helped to raise thousands of pounds towards his recovery – everyone just hopes Nick can regain movement throughout.
They also pray he walks out of hospital, as he dreams to, this summer.
A 33-YEAR-OLD man has been arrested on suspicion of assault, following the attack on Nick Morgan. The suspect, from Sittingbourne, in Kent, is on police bail, pending further enquiries, until February 24.