It’s been a year and a week since 18-year-old George Robinson suffered a life-changing injury while playing rugby with his schoolmates in South Africa.
But after 10-months in hospital, he returned home to be with parents Simon and Gill, younger brother Eddie and dog Spike at the end of May - and now his focus is firmly on returning to Stamford School in September to pick up where he left off.
“In a weird way, it was kind of like a gap year. Probably not the gap year I’d have chosen,” he says with a wry smile.
“But I am looking forward to it. It’s going to be a bit different, both in terms of new ways of working and going a year below.”
He’ll be joining Eddie and his schoolmates and Eddie said: “It’ll be good to have him there because George and I have grown so close.”
The school has made a number of alterations to accomodate George’s return and in a fortnight, he’ll be picking up his AS-level results with everyone else - a resit he did while still in hospital.
Asked if it went well, there’s a big sigh. “It went ok....”
The Robinson family is at home in Stamford giving their first full interview to the Mercury to mark a year since George’s accident on July 27, 2015.
George had been in South Africa for 10 days when the accident happened during a game in Cape Town . He’d been staying with a family in Durban and had been enjoying the trip.
He remembers the accident well, having never lost consciousness.
“We had a scrum just 10 metres away from the try line. I chased it and didn’t tackle particularly well...
“You hear about these sort of injuries happening all the time but it’s completely outside of your world and you don’t really take notice. People like Matt Hampson.
“I didn’t think I’d broken my neck.”
The school was just a two-minute drive away from the hospital and it is a rule in South Africa that two ambulances must be on site before a rugby game can take place... “something ironically I was complaining about”, says George, as it delayed the start of the game.
On the journey to hospital, he recalls: “My rugby coach, who was in the ambulance, told me to stop swearing because there were ladies on board. Yes sir.”
The impact of going in for the tackle caused a transection of the spinal cord and on the evening of his accident, he underwent an operation lasting all night to fix a metal plate into his neck to stabilise the cord. His teachers and some parents on the trip waited patiently in the hospital waiting room overnight.
His parents, back in the UK, were alerted that their son had had a serious accident and by the time George woke up in intensive care the following morning, his frantic father was beside him – a moment he describes as “humbling and upsetting”.
Gill followed a day later.
George describes his surgeon Dr Liebenberg as “this terrifying 6ft 4in, huge, bald South African” but his parents say they can’t fault the care both George and they received.
They spent 37 days in South Africa before George was flown back to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, where he celebrated his 18th birthday in September although he remarks with a smile: “There’s probably been better 18th birthdays.”
During his time in Addenbrooke’s he contracted tuberculosis and upon his arrival at the Princess Royal Spinal Unit in Sheffield, he was put into quarantine, where he spent Christmas.
But he said his time spent there was “a lot more positive”.
“It was about moving forward and progressing. They weaned me off the ventilator and I got a wheelchair.”
He was also able to meet people who had suffered similar injuries doing everyday things like horse riding and swimming with their family.
The family had moved house two days before the accident, from Maxey into Stamford town centre, so when George left the hospital in Sheffield, it was to a home he had never known. But he said: “It did actually feel like home - when I was Facetiming the family from hospital, I was given the grand tour.
“And being here in Stamford has helped tremendously. It means I can go out when I need to go into town for a haircut or something without needing to get into the van.”
The family are happy in Stamford but will eventually need to look to move so they can find a home more accommodating for George’s needs - he currently sleeps in the living room.
He is undergoing physiotherapy twice a week and has regained a lot of strength in his arms.
He is also looking to build up strength in his shoulders so he can pull himself onto his bed.
He was recently able to stand for 20 minutes, supported by a team, in a bid to build up his bone density and strengthen the muscles and tendons. “It’s good to see yourself standing tall again as well,” adds George.
Eddie is a keen footballer and plays for Deeping Rangers. He prefers it to rugby as it’s not a contact sport and jokes that George’s accident gives “me the perfect excuse not to play”.
But Gill and Simon both say they would not stop him from playing and George remains a keen rugby fan - watching the Rugby World Cup and Six Nations from his hospital bed.
“Of course there are some tackles that you flinch at a bit more, but I wouldn’t say I’ve lost my passion for the sport at all.”
Simon said: “It’s the values of sport that it instills. The support we have been given by the sporting community has been incredible.”
In the future, the family may look at increasing awareness of accessibility issues - something they’ve become increasingly aware of themselves in the last couple of months.
But for now, the focus remains firmly on George and Eddie.
Simon said: “It’s about looking forward now –focusing on the positives and what he can do. George has got incredible strength of mind and there are so many things that he can do.”
George added: “I have been taking each day as it comes and every now and then I think ‘Right George, let’s think about the future’.
“I still very much want to go to university, possibly to study philosphy and something else. Beyond that, who knows?”