Paralysis fear of injured Sheffield girl goalkeeper

Goalkeeper Emily Darwin.
Goalkeeper Emily Darwin.

Footballer Emily Darwin narrowly escaped being paralysed for life when she suffered a spinal injury and had to be airlifted to hospital halfway through a match.

Emily, aged 20, from Stannington, is goalkeeper for Sheffield Wednesday ladies’ first team - but faced never playing a game again when a player from the opposition accidentally kneed her in the neck.

To her horror, Emily lost all feeling in her lower limbs immediately, and medics were unsure whether she would ever fully regain the use of her legs.

But just days later she is back on her feet - and wants to thank her teammates, hospital staff and air ambulance doctors for saving her.

Emily’s ordeal is even set to feature on national television, as the helicopter crew which rushed to the scene was being filmed for a documentary, meaning the rescue was caught on camera.

Emily, a support worker who helps disabled people, says she feels ‘so relieved’, but added: “It could have been much worse.”

The Owls’ women’s side were playing Rotherham United Ladies at the Advanced Learning Centre in Goldthorpe when Emily was injured in the 50th minute.

Collapsing to the pitch, she realised her legs were completely numb.

“It felt very weird,” she said. “I just kept saying, ‘My neck hurts’, and I couldn’t move my legs. It was so scary. I was trying to move, but it wasn’t happening, so I just had to lie completely still.

“People were coming up to me and asking whether I was alright, then the next thing I knew a rapid responder ambulance had arrived and they were putting me into a helicopter.

“As I was lying on the ground I noticed they had a film crew with them and they were interviewing different people.

“I was worried, because I thought I would only have to go into a normal ambulance - when I saw the helicopter I thought it must be bad.

“They broke the match for an hour and then carried on, but no-one really wanted to!”

Emily was flown to the Northern General Hospital, where she was given scans and checked over by doctors who diagnosed her with ‘spinal shock’.

“It happens when the nerves in your neck stop working so your spine shuts down,” she said.

“They told me they didn’t know how long it would take for me to recover, or how much strength I would get back, if anything.”

Emily spent two days wearing a collar, undergoing physiotherapy and being fed by hospital staff, before regaining a little movement.

She can now walk up and down stairs again, but doctors say it will be months before she can play football.

“They say I’ve got to be confident when I play, otherwise I could end up getting hurt again,” said Emily, who lives with mum Joanne, 49, and dad Sam, 59.

“I’m hoping it will be soon but I don’t want to put a time on it.

“Everyone has treated me really well. The doctors have been very reassuring and I’ve had so many messages from other players, even the opposing team.

“I just love playing football - I’ve been doing it since I was seven and get so much out of it.”

Emily’s accident last Sunday is now expected to feature in an upcoming series of the BBC’s Helicopter Heroes, about the day-to-day work of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.