A SUNDAY-LEAGUE footballer who broke his neck in a Jurgen Klinsmann-style goal celebration is back on the pitch after a nine-month miracle recovery.
In his first game back Dennis Swales pulled on his strip for Hartlepool League Division Two team IB Roofing and scored two of the side’s four goals against Rovers at Grayfields – almost on the same spot where he cracked two vertebrae and crushed four discs in his neck in January.
The 28-year-old feared he may never walk again after undergoing risky surgery to replace the broken discs with plastic ones. But he defied the odds and ended up being the star of his return match last month.
The plucky amateur sportsman – who is only insured on the field from the waist down – is not out of the woods just yet as he is on 22 tablets and three teaspoons of morphine a day to numb pain caused by his body rejecting the replacement discs.
In a bid to combat this he is due to have a second set of injections in his neck to “kill” the nerves. But if unsuccessful then he may have to undergo an intricate operation on the C1 vertebrae – which connects the brain to the spine – and is also the bone which actor Christopher Reeves, who played Superman, injured when he fell from his horse and became paralysed in 1995.
Dennis says doctors are saving that option as a very last resort as the success rate is 50-50 as to whether it will work or render him wheelchair bound and unable to care for himself.
For now though, the striker, who lives on the Town Wall, Headland, with his fiancee, Sian Reed, 30, says he just feels lucky that he can play the sport he loves, and play with his three kids.
Dennis said: “Loads of people have told me not to play football and I suppose I’m knackered if I get hurt, but I don’t want to wrap myself in cotton wool.
“If I can’t play football and can’t play-wrestle with my kids then I might as well be paralysed. If it happens it happens.”
He added: “Don’t get me wrong I’m scared when I step on the pitch every week, I’m scared of going for a header or a tackle in case something happens, but you can’t live your life like that.”
The former Catholic Club player left the team when he felt he was not getting a game because club bosses were worried about his injury and the risks involved.
But within 10 minutes of putting a message on Facebook asking if any town teams wanted a striker, he was inundated with 17 requests.
He said: “I’ve got no hard feelings against the Catholic Club, they were just worried about me but I really wanted to play. I chose IB Roofing because I know loads of the lads from school.”
When the accident happened, Dennis was playing for the Catholic Club against Gaiety’s Bar at Grayfields and scored in the last minute to make it 3-2. He then celebrated in the style of legendary German footballer Klinsmann, catching his chin on the grass and his body weight crushing against his neck.
The former Dyke House School pupil was taken to One Life Hartlepool after the accident on Sunday, January 6, where medics placed him on a spine board and whisked him to the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton.
There, surgeons performed the risky six-hour operation, cutting through his throat to gain access to the damaged bones, muscles, nerves and ligaments, and to replace his broken discs.
Dennis, a former chef who is unemployed, added: “I just want to say that I couldn’t have got through the last year without my fiancee, she has done everything for me and she means the world.”