Michelle's fight to save lives

DOCTORS said she would never feed herself again, but today Michelle Coulson has surpassed their expectations beyond all belief.In spite of her paralysis, the 22-year-old is today striving for a remarkable achievement – to become a fully qualified lifesaving teacher.

DOCTORS said she would never feed herself again, but today Michelle Coulson has surpassed their expectations beyond all belief.

In spite of her paralysis, the 22-year-old is today striving for a remarkable achievement – to become a fully qualified lifesaving teacher.

Michelle's dreams were shattered two years ago when a bullet severed her spinal cord and confined her to a wheelchair.

She was left a tetrapalegic, with limited use of her shoulders, arms and fingers and no movement in her legs, and she requires round-the-clock care.

Before the incident, the former Copleston High School pupil was a lifeguard at the Crown Pools in Ipswich and was instrumental in saving a young child from the pool.

But through the toughest times, she has shown inspirational willpower and braved several operations to rediscover her love of lifesaving.

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Even when she went into hospital, she would always pester: "When can I go swimming, when can I go swimming?"

Michelle said: "I like lifesaving - you are teaching people to save lives. Life still goes on. Why stop?"

Now an assistant teacher at the Deben Life Saving Club in Woodbridge, where her father is chairman, Michelle has adapted her teaching methods and has successfully helped pupils achieve their Bronze medallion at their first attempt.

Michelle is also the divisions duty officer and part-time public relations officer for the St John Ambulance.

But she now has her eyes set on completing a training course to become a full teacher.

Michelle said: "I know the Bronze medallion and I can teach it. There is nothing wrong with my mind. I don't know everything to do with lifesaving but I know enough to teach, so why should it stop me?"

Rhona Stockman, branch co-ordinator of the Royal Lifesaving Society, is giving Michelle her full support.

She said: "As far as I know, Michelle is fairly unique. I am pretty sure she will be able to progress to full teacher status.

"She would be totally in charge of her class. I have to consider whether it will be safe for her and for the children.

"There are no real barriers as far as people with disabilities are concerned, but in her case she would need a lifeguard there as well. What I find most amazing is her positive view of life and that inspires me."

Val Sumner, support officer of Lifesavers The Royal Lifesaving Society UK, said she knows of only two other people who teach in a wheelchair.

She said: "If she has got the determination to get where she is, she will get wherever she wants to go."

Michelle's life changed on September 12, 2002, when her ex-boyfriend, Alexander Powell dropped a gun, causing it to fire a bullet into her neck.

He was jailed for 18 months in June 2003 after admitting affray and possessing a gun without a firearms certificate.

Her mother, Christine, said adapting to life outside hospital was also extremely difficult for her, but Michelle would not be beaten.

Christine Coulson, of Ipswich, said: "Michelle said, 'I will prove everyone wrong'. It is her great determination. When Michelle was admitted to hospital, she was told by a consultant that she would never feed herself.

"You can't envisage what is like to be in a wheelchair. People tower over you. Personal skills state that if you want to communicate with people you need to get at eye level."

Michelle recently had an operation on the tendons in her left arm to enable her to move her fingers.

This allowed her to appreciate the simplest things - like putting her hair up and using a knife and fork - that other people take for granted.

Michelle said: "I wouldn't have been able to do anything without my family's support."

Have you made a remarkable comeback? Call the Star news desk on 01473 324788 or e-mail starnews@eveningstar.co.uk

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