An amateur Rugby League player who suffered an horrendous injury that means he can no longer read or write is desperately trying to make a full recovery.
Zac France was playing in a Regional Cup Final for Cheltenham Phoenix when he broke his C2 vertebrae late on in a match against Bath Romans.
However the complications only got worse for the 23-year-old as he developed a rare neurological disorder which means that one side of his body doesn’t pick up signals that help him do everyday tasks.
He is now consigned to a wheelchair and cannot work, with his employers not paying him sick leave anymore after his entitled absence expired.
Inevitably, the injury has turned his life upside down, but France is focused on doing all he can to ensure his life can return as near to normality as possible.
“I remember taking the ball in and being hit by two players, being picked up and then I just went blank really,” he said.
“I was in and out of consciousness for four or five days. I don’t remember the first month after really. The first week I was pretty incoherent and one of the first things I remember was not being able to move my legs or right arm.
“Basically, one side of my body doesn’t get signals, so it’s hard to do rehab because my body varies every day.
“I can’t read and write anymore, my brain doesn’t pick up the right signals, so my mum has to do it for me. I’ve had a private physio called Dan Fivey and he has quite a lot of top-notch technology. I see him three or four days a week now and that does a lot for me.”
From the moment he suffered the injury, France has worked tirelessly to ensure he can make a full and quick recovery. Unfortunately, finding the correct support has been a challenge, with finances another problem he has to contend with.
“The prognosis can be mixed. Injury wise there’s no reason why there can’t be a full recovery, but neurologically it’s more of a challenge. I’ve been on a waiting list to see a specialist for what seems like forever now. It’s just been a long battle. The NHS didn’t give me any referrals either.
“My physio says some days it’s not that I don’t want to do it, but the condition just won’t allow me too, which is quite frustrating.
— Zac France (@zac_france) January 18, 2016
“Some days I can be standing up on a support device and move my legs a little bit, and then the next day I can’t get out of bed. On bad days I have to get someone to come and wash me because I can’t use my right arm at all. That’s hard.
“My work has been a pain. They stopped paying me in December because after 28 weeks we don’t get sick pay anymore, so I’ve had to apply for Personal Independence Payments, although I’ve been applying for six months and still haven’t got any money. My insurance claim is taking forever as well.”
However, in Rugby League, France has found comfort. Although playing the 13-a-side game isn’t possible at this point, he has taken up the flourishing sport that is wheelchair rugby, and found it a wonderful experience.
“I’ve started playing wheelchair rugby which has been really helpful, just so I can do something. Being in a community where people have gone through similar things and talking to people about it is nice.
“I’ve had a lot of help from my family too. My mum and rugby coach would come down and see me two or three times. Financially it has been a hardship because I’ve had to take a loan out to try and keep myself afloat. I’ve always trained hard anyway which has helped, but just seeing small steps of progress is encouraging.”
As ever, the sport rallied round to support one of its own. The RFL Benevolent Fund have supported him throughout the process, with Zac’s Just Giving Page already raising enough to help him buy his wheelchair.
“I had a reconstruction on my shoulder anyway, but the rehab started damaging it, so it’s been hard to do rehab as my shoulder is getting worse. But the wheelchair that has been bought has really helped though.
“Everyone at the rugby club has been really supportive and eventually I want to stay active.”
You can make a donation to Zac’s Just Giving page at https://www.justgiving.com/zac-france