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Teenage dreams shattered in a split second

Imagine being told at 15 years old that you would never be able to walk again. Following a horrific motorbike accident Melanie Davies' life changed in a split second. Laura Davies (South Wales Evening Post) talks to the now 46-year-old about rebuilding her life and her fight to get a rehabilitation centre in Wales to help other people through her charity Treat Trust Wales.

She had a promising career as a potential model, aspirations of getting married and having a family, and looked forward to living a fun-packed life.

But laying in a hospital bed, 15-year-old Melanie Davies somehow had to come to terms with the fact that she would never walk again.

The devastating news came shortly after she was involved in a motorbike accident not far from her Port Talbot home.

Now 31 years on, the paraplegic relives the painful memories of the day that changed her life and hopes that she can make a difference to other patients who have been involved in serious accidents.

It was a sunny Saturday morning in May, 1980, and pretty teenages Melanie Bowen was looking forward to spending the day out on her boyfriend's motorbike in Porthcawl.

She was 15 years and he was 19 years old.

After being bullied in school for being 6ft tall, she discovered a newfound confidence when she hooked up with her long-haired, tatooed biker boyfriend.

She says: "I thought he was God and he had a 750 Honda - a massive Bike.

"We were going out on a ride to Porthcawl. A friend of mine asked if she could come out with my biker gang and I remember thinking I hope noting happens to her because she had never been out on a bike.

"I had been having a grand old time. I had been on a bike for two months - I thought I knew everything. At least I knew to wear a proper jacket and a good helmet."

But on the way back to Port Talbot another bike overtook the youngsters on Aberavon sea front and Melanie's boyrfriend took chase.

It was then that disaster struck.

She says: "We were driving along and we ended up hitting a 90 degree bend, known as Jeff's bend, at 85mph. There was sand on the road and he lost control of the bike. I was flung through the air and landed on a wall and consequently broke my back.

"One minute iI was walking with dreams of being a model and, in a second, it all went.

"My life changed as I knew it, as my parents and as my friends and family knew it, in a second.

"I walked out of our home a carefree teenager on May 10, 1980, for what was to be the last time in my life.

"In the accident, my back was snapped between the shoulder blades paralysing me from the chest down.

"I was told I would never stand or walk again and that the rest of my life was to be lived in a wheelchair. I never thought it would happen to me - who does?

"You get used to not walking, you can adapt, but when you start realising that you have lost control of your bladder, your bowels, everything - you are a big baby. I was a 15-year-old newborn, dependant on new bladder training technique, new bowel training etc - this was the swaggering teenager that walked out the door that day in her stilettos, black suede boots, tight jeans and a leather jacket.

Melanie, orginally of Uploads, Penycae, spent months in Rookwood in Cardiff, a rehabilitation hospital, trying to come to terms with the new her.

"When I was told I don't think it hit home," she says.

"My thoughts were 'how am I going to get upstairs, go tot he toilet, will I ever go dancing again, will I have a boyfriend again, will my friends want to bother with a cripple cramping their style?' I just thought 'when is this going to end and when I am going to die?'

"That blast of testosterone that my boyfriend had for that one second if all it took to change my life.

"Mty parents a;ways said not to go on a motorbike but being young I just though I would be fine.

"When I was lying on the ground after the accident, the first thing I thought was 'I am going to have a row'."

But 46-year-old Melanie has come through it a stronger person, one who is now driven by a £10 million dream of opening a centre in Swansea to help those who have been through ordeals fo their own.

TREAT Trust Wales was forme din 2001 with the help of secveral doctors. Its president s Hollywood star Michael Sheen.

Melanie says: "Having an injury like this is bad enough but there are currently no rehabilitation services in Wales. So not only are you taken out of one liffe and put into another, there is no-one there to help or guide you through that learning process.

"I formed TREAT Trust ten years ago on the hope that there was something I could do for people who had suffered serious injuries due to accidents."

There have been many ups as well as downs for Melanie.

In 2001, she developed breast cancer and is currently undergoing treatment for a second bout of the disease.

On the upside, Melanie is now a happily married woman.

Except, in aother Hollywood-like twist, she is maried to the surgeon who first broke the dreadful news to her that she would never walk again after her accident.

The couple got together when Melanie asked Mike to help her with the charity and they now live in New Road, Gellinudd, Pontardawe. Together they both work tirelessly to promote the charity.

Melanie has written an autobiography, Never Say Die, and is now backing a campaign along with the Port Talbot actor to urge bikers in Wales to slow down and stay safe on the roads.

The Ride Wales leaflet is part of the Wales by Bike campaign, which was set up to tackle the high number of motorbike fatalities on Welsh roads and is funded by Go Safe - the Wales Road Casualty Reduction Partnership.

The leaflet has been designed to provide bikers with top tips on how to be safe, common causes of accidents and how to avoid them, and training advice.

Award-winning star Michael says: "When I found out there was no rehabilitation centre I thought it was ridiculous and I was keen to get involved.

"It's not just the fatalities or injuries it's also the familes affected as well.

"Somethign like this will really make a huge difference to people with permanent or temporary injuries.

"Recently my mother had a hip-replacement operation so we have been very aware as a family of the importance of rehabilitation in order to get back into life and lead a full life."

Michael admits he has never really ridden a motorbike, but used to get around London by scooter.

"I know the thrill of getting around on two wheels - the joy, the freedom and how in a split second, either through my own stupidity or through incompetence of others around me it could all be over just like that," he says.

"The danger and the risk, no matter where you are is the same."

Melanie adds: "If I can prevent this happening to anybody else, then I ill do anything I possibly can. I have seen it all. I am still living it.

"There is no cure for me but if we can get rehabilitation services we can do something to help."

Laura Davies, South Wales Evening Post : 8th March 2011

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