When Steve Brookes saw daughter Emily toddling towards him for the first time, it was one of the most precious moments of his life – and the most agonising.
It was the first time Steve had seen his little girl taking the unsteady steps of a toddler and he longed to reach out and catch her as she stumbled.
But Steve could only watch mesmerised, awed and devastated that he couldn’t do more to participate in this milestone occasion.
The father-of-two had been left paralysed from the upper chest down after a motorbike accident and his daughters were visiting him in hospital.
It was the first time Steve had seen them in weeks and he was amazed by Emily’s progress.
‘She’d just been bum shuffling then,’ he recalls. ‘But here she was walking towards me and it was heartbreaking because I couldn’t do anything. I was in this neck collar and just looking at her.
‘She was just taking these baby steps and all I wanted to do was catch her. I wanted to be standing above her and holding her hands as she walked.’
Five years on and Steve is telling this story with wife Nichola by his side at their Titchfield home and their children – Grace eight, and Emily, now six – playing happily in another room.
Nichola becomes emotional when they recall the moment Steve heard he had permanently lost the use of and feeling in his limbs and torso.
‘Steve was crying, saying I’m paralysed and I was crying too and I was holding his hand. And then I think it really hit us when he said “I can’t feel you holding my hand”.’
Steve is able to put his arms around Nichola as she bends down for a cuddle. Grace and Emily run in and out to show them things and another important member of the family snoozes on the floor.
Kizzie is a golden Labrador from the West-Sussex based charity Canine Partners.
As well as being a much-loved pet, she helps Steve by providing companionship and performing tasks like picking up his phone from the floor when he drops it and taking his wallet and handing it to cashiers
And Kizzie is a very important part of this family scene as she has helped him do the things most dads take for granted like taking his girls to school.
Steve’s daughters were uppermost in his mind when he discovered he wouldn’t walk or use his arms after the accident in 2008.
The 34-year-old was a communications specialist in the navy and attached to a marines unit at the time of his accident.
He was looking forward to a promotion and he and wife Nichola had been planning a third child.
Steve came off his bike on the way home from his job in Poole after a car clipped his back wheel. Conscious at the scene, the young dad was in no pain but his neck had broken.
He says: ‘I was thinking “what’s happened to my bike?” and worrying that I was late for dinner, thinking “she’s going to kill me”.’
It was when he later heard the devastating news in hospital that he immediately thought of the girls.
‘I just looked at Nichola and said “I won’t be able to hold our daughters again will I?” It was at this point my world completely collapsed.’
Steve still has no feeling in his arms but he can move them using muscles in his shoulders and with determination and the help of Kizzie has built up his strength.
‘Just stroking her and playing with her has really helped,’ he explains.
Now he can push the girls on swings at the park and cuddle them.
‘When I first came home I was looking for a way back, to find my way in and interact with my kids more.
‘When we went to the park all I could do was sit and watch which was awful. Now I can push them on the swings and we play games.’
These involve the girls racing Kizzie back to him after he has thrown a ball.
He also now has the confidence to take Emily and Grace to school. And Kizzie even helps Steve get the girls up in the morning.
‘I send her in and she pulls the covers off them,’ he explains grinning.
Steve is a born joker and he and Nichola laugh and tease each other.
Upbeat and positive, he has found a way around the strain of school sports day by taking part in the dads’ races in his chair.
But it has taken a battle through the darkest of days to get to this stage.
‘You go through everything – denial, anger, acceptance,’ says Steve.
‘You’re grieving because the person you were has died a little bit and you have to come to terms with the person you’ve become.’
Steve has carers around the clock because he says: ‘I want Nichola to be my wife, not my carer.’
She says: ‘You’re too high maintenance anyway. It takes you 20 minutes to choose a shirt.’
They laugh and joke but Steve has been through periods of severe depression, suffering with anxiety, breathing difficulties and refusing to eat.
But with a lot of help he has come to terms with his situation and feels he has a lot to be thankful for. ‘I’m still here with my daughters and have a wonderful wife who has stood by me.’
And then of course, there’s Kizzie who the girls love and who, Steve and Nichola admit, is allowed to get on the bed when the family have a special lie-in on a Sunday morning.
‘She never leaves my side and every now and again she’ll jump up and give me a reassuring lick,’ he says. ‘We’ve just got to sort something out for her breath.’
Steve Brookes had been very active before his accident and the charity Back-Up Trust is helping him make the most of life now.
Thanks to the organisation, which helps people with spinal cord injuries, he has been sit skiing in Sweden and water skiing.
He says: ‘You’ve been told all the things you can’t do and you come out of a spinal unit and are cushioned. You think you can’t do this or that.
‘Back-up comes along and tells you what you can do. It’s run by people with spinal injuries and they say “you can do this and this” and encourage you to give things a try.’
The charity also offers mentoring, wheelchair skills training and other services.
Kizzie’s training and partnership with Steve has been funded by Help for Heroes.
Canine Partners dogs perform a range of tasks that their owners may find difficult, painful or impossible to perform.
At the charity’s training centre in Heyshott, West Sussex and during ongoing training with their owners, these amazing animals learn to open and close doors, retrieve items, press buttons and switches, raise alarms, unload washing machines, give wallets to cashiers and much more.
Canine Partners receives no government funding and relies solely on public donations.
There are various options for those who would like to support the charity. They include fundraising, donating and volunteering by becoming a Puppy Parent (looking after and helping with the basic training of a young dog).
Visit caninepartners.org.uk or call 08456 580 480.