Just Having the Use of My Hands Would Transform My Life; as New Medical Research Offers Fresh Hope to Thousands of Paralysed People Worldwide, Gemma Quinn Tells Penny Fray about Her Dreams of a Better Future
Byline: Penny Fray
IT is a simple wish. But paralysed teenager Gemma Quinn longs for the day she can give her dad a hug.
Closing her eyes, she imagines this scene in the way most of us visualise ourselves winning the Lottery. For Gemma, it isn't just a dream, but maybe a glimpse into the future.
The 18-year-old has been unable to move her arms or legs since being involved in a serious car crash in North Wales more than 10 years ago.
Now, medical scientists, funded by UK charity Spinal Research, have made a breakthrough that could radically improve her life, and that of thousands of immobile people, without the use of embryonic stem cells, a controversial process still very much at the discovery stage.
Acknowledged as one of the biggest achievements ever seen in the field of paralysis, four centimetres of spinal cord has been regenerated in a Cambridge laboratory. And Spinal Research hopes that clinical trials will take place in the next five years.
A full recovery may be too much than she dares hope for, but Gemma, from Woolton, Liverpool, dreams that the discovery will alter the way she leads her daily life.
``If I could get back the use of my arms - or just one arm or hand - it would give me so much more independence,'' she says.
``There are so many things I miss, like brushing my hair, feeding myself, answering the phone. I'm not able to give someone a hug. I've got the memory of it, but I can't do it any more. If I had the use of just one limb, I could regain some of these small, day-to-day things.''
Gemma was just seven years old when the car crash happened. But her bravery and determination to live life to the full has made a big impression on a host of people, such as the late Diana, Princess of Wales. In fact, her letters of hope to the newly-paralysed actor, Christopher Reeve, inspired him to fight for a better future.
She says: ``I view that day - June 6 - as my birthday. On that day, part of me died and will never exist again. But another part of me was born. You have to be positive. Not everybody shares my view - I was in hospital once on the fifth anniversary and wearing a `5' badge, and I think they thought I was mad.
``Losing the use of your limbs at such an early age means you have to grow up quickly, and any sort of normal life goes out of the window.
``Now I've learnt to accept my disability. But watching a football game and not being able to celebrate the win like everyone else is hard... obviously I can't jump out of my seat and dance around like those around me.''
GEMMA has just completed her A-levels and is now indulging in her love of script writing. Her good looks have also earned her a modelling contract. But while she remains bright and articulate, she still has to rely on the 24-hour help of a team of care assistants.
``I'd like to be physically more self-sufficient because the level of care is quite intense,'' she adds. ``Just having use of my hands would allow me to do so much more for myself.''
Recent research work has identified at least three treatments that are able to stimulate nerve fibre regeneration in the spinal cord. No individual treatment can bring about the complete repair of a spinal injury, but could make a significant difference to quadriplegics like Gemma.
But significantly, the work doesn't use embryonic stem cells, an area which has caused much moral dispute since actor Christopher Reeve has taken a personal interest in supporting its research. …