CELEBRATING your 21st birthday is a rite of passage for many and usually enough of a reason to hold a party.
But for Chris Stewart’s friends and family it marked a milestone they thought they’d never see.
For in 2006 Chris was involved in a motor racing accident that saw his skull lifted off his spine in what is known as an internal decapitation.
All that kept his head on his shoulders was skin, tendons and muscles – an injury that kills or paralyses nearly all who suffer it.
Now, almost nine years later and after an inspirational recovery, Chris marked his birthday on Sunday with a party at the Hoeford Inn, in Fareham,
His mum Debbie Cornell, of Gosport Road, Fareham, said: ‘We had a lovely time. It was amazing.’
When Chris was 12 years old, he was taking part in a race near Alton in a Mini when he crashed into a barrier at 40mph. Luckily for Chris, after firefighters worked on the car to get him out, volunteer emergency Basics Hampshire doctor Cliff Reid put him on a life support system.
Sunday’s party was attended by family, friends and some of the medical team who helped give him vital initial treatment which saved his life.
But Dr Reid could not be there as he is now head of one of the largest air ambulance organisations in Australia, although he sent his best wishes.
He said: ‘I can’t say how much hearing of his recovery and success in life means. I wish I could’ve been at his 21st.
‘I remember vividly getting bleeped to go to the scene. My instinct told me there was something seriously wrong, which is why I sandbagged his head rather than using a brace.
‘I put him on a breathing machine and travelled with him to the expert care of surgeon Evan Davies at Southampton General. We were all cogs in a happy outcome for Chris.
‘I train hundreds of pre-hospital care medics in my current role and I use Chris as an example of trusting instinct, knowing how to do it and going the extra mile.’
Kindhearted Chris, now a qualified carpenter, is also using his experience to help others and he has been helping a woman in Fareham.
Sam Mitchell, from Highlands Road, suffered the same injury as Chris – a ‘hangman break’ – in August last year when she tripped in the street while walking her sister’s dog.
The freak accident saw her spend more than eight months in hospital, then a nursing home, and although she is in recovery she often needs a wheelchair at home.
After reading her story in a newspaper, Chris’ mum tracked down Sam and put her in touch with Chris.
Since then, Chris has been working to make her house wheelchair-friendly and he has laid flooring to help her get around.
Chris said: ‘I had so much help throughout my recovery that I thought she should have some help from me.
‘I wanted to return the favour as I had so much help from different people.
‘I wanted to give someone else that feeling.’