“Click, click, click”. As I walk through the foggy campus of Keele University, I can hear the noise of Christopher Matthews’s crutches coming towards me.

“Alright cripple?”, I shout. Not because I’m someone who likes to shout abuse at random disabled people, you understand. Chris is a very good friend of mine, someone I’ve known since we started secondary school, and he describes himself as a cripple.

He was born in October 1991, with a condition known at Peters anomaly plus. Peters anomaly is a condition where the sufferer has cloudy corneas meaning they have very little eyesight. The plus bit is more a minus actually, meaning he also has brittle bones. Not a great combination.

“I’ve broken myself 12 times now, not including operations.”

Chris seems very proud of this fact. He starts from his feet, moving up his body and listing every part of his body he’s broken.

“I’ve broken my right big toe, my right ankle twice, my left femur, my right femur four times, my left humerus, my right humerus twice and my right radius.”

I was present one time he broke his right femur.

“It was in year eight,” Chris recalls. “We were in a drama lesson, which is quite ironic because it was quite dramatic. It should have been a simple break but I spun around, fell over and landed on my knee. Instead of my leg breaking normally, it bent and nearly punctured the skin.”

The hospital didn’t want to operate because of Chris’s brittle bones. He was in hospital on traction for four months before being allowed out of hospital on crutches.

“The leg still had quite a bend in it, so I was on crutches for seven years after that,” Chris says rolling his eyes.

A lot can happen in seven years. Chris’s parents had fought hard to get him into a ‘normal’ school, moving to Ellesmere in Shropshire as the local Lakelands School was considered to be fairly disability friendly. This is when I first met him.

“It's slightly scary to think I might not be a university now because I'd have been labelled as disabled and gone to a disabled school. I wouldn't have been happy.”

Chris is an intelligent lad, who always smiles and likes a joke. His intelligence meant he found school to be a doddle, and other pupils were fairly accepting of him. The school put on assemblies and made everyone wear blindfolds to find out what it’s like to be Chris.

“It took a while for people to get used to the blindness. I had an operation when I was six years old but I'm blind for life. I can see the same detail in roughly two metres that the average person can see in 60. It works out to be about three percent of an average person's sight.”

Chris went on to sixth form where he was given a bit more freedom than school and, like any normal teenager, he discovered drink and girls. He remembers one college party particularly well. “There was a girl I wanted to dance with. I’d had a few too many ciders so left my crutches with a friend and I was off to find her. I didn’t have much luck but I didn’t break anything or get a slap, so I’ll live.”

He flew through his A-levels – managing two years at sixth form without breaking a single bone - and ended up at university studying maths and accounting (with a little bit of Japanese thrown in).

It was when he was in his first year at university that his broken leg couldn’t stand the pressure and broke in three places during a spasm in Chris’s sleep.

He was rushed to hospital, something which Chris is getting used to now, where he spent several months before they decided to operate.

Not to be beaten, Chris started his first year at university again.

“I was on my way to recovery and in November last year I ended up breaking my left femur. That was impressive. My crutch slipped in the rain on the way to a lecture and I did a roly poly and landed on a parked car. They decided to operate on that one the next day – thank God!”

He missed another two months of university but passed his first year. He is now in his second year, and making plans for the future.

“When I graduate I'd quite like to go to Japan for a couple of years. I'd like to think I'd find someone who'd like to go with me and help out a little bit. I'd like an accountancy job out there, or something to do with finance. They get paid so much out there. I'll probably go out there for a couple of years and then might come back here for an accountancy job.”

But how does his disability hinder him at university? We take a walk through the campus so he can show me the students union. I say a walk – from his student halls there’s a long hill down to the SU. He whizzes off in his wheelchair slaloming around bemused students and deliberately aiming at parked cars to make me panic, as I start a light jog in a bid to keep up. It’s one hell of a sight, and all too easy to forget that he can’t actually see where he’s going.

It’s obvious that it’s a route he knows well and he tells me he has done it many times, merry on alcohol like any good student after a night at the SU.

“My friends push me back up the hill. I’m surprised we haven’t had an almighty crash after a few too many vodka and cokes.”

He might describe himself as a cripple but it’s obvious Chris doesn’t let it stop him doing what he wants with his life. As he says with a smile, “I refuse to let my disabilities stop me from going to the pub – I’m too stubborn.” I think we can all find a little inspiration in that.
Chris... my crippled friend.

01/07/2013 10:14

this is inspirational!! Well done chris much love x

Lizzie T
03/10/2013 05:14

Why have I only just seen this?! I love you both and miss you xxx


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