LIFE totally changed for me in 2003, when I crashed my car at the age of 18.
I was on my way home from a party on the day of my A-level results and my car was full of really drunk people, though I was sober and wearing a seatbelt.
Life totally changed for me in 2003, when I crashed my car at the age of 18, says Loose Women presenter Sophie MorganCredit: Edo Dream
Sophie had to have an eight-hour operation at a specialist spinal hospital in London
But I’d only been driving for six months, so I was inexperienced and distracted by the loud music and the people around me — my speeding was out of control.
All I remember from the crash, which my friends escaped from with minor injuries, is being upside-down with my face in the dirt.
I passed out and was in hospital in Scotland for three days. I was then flown to London to a specialist spinal hospital for an eight-hour operation.
I was so close to death that I felt I left my body behind and disappeared into a light, warm space.
But I heard a voice saying: “Come back, please don’t go.” It was my mum [Carol, now 66], and her voice brought me back.
About a week after the crash, I was told I was a paraplegic and would never walk again. It was the most overwhelming thing any teenager could have been told.
My face was badly damaged, too — my cheek bone was crushed, my jaw was dislocated and my eyeball almost completely fell out.
I spent three months in hospital, then I was allowed to go home early as my mum was a former nurse.
But for a long time, I was in a lot of pain. Back then, I had limited perceptions of what people in wheelchairs could do. I didn’t imagine I could live independently, drive a car or go to university. But I’ve gone on to do all of those things.
The physical barriers I face as a paraplegic and as a wheelchair user are often surmountable with enough support, whether financial, emotional or physical. The biggest challenge is dealing with other people’s attitudes.
I’ve had comments like: “It’s a shame you’re in a wheelchair, you’re pretty!” It’s meant to be a compliment, but it’s harmful.
Somebody said to me: “I’d rather be dead than be you.” And another said: “If I was you, I’d kill myself.” The presumed sadness about my life, without knowing anything about me, is painful.
Online dating can be a challenge, too. I’m upfront about my disability, which means guys will ask me questions about my crash.
Once, I was in a club, enjoying myself with friends, and a guy started taking photos of me. He didn’t recognise me from TV — he said I was inspirational because I was out with friends in a wheelchair.
The impact of that is really hurtful.
I’ve also encountered discrimination. When I came out of hospital, I wanted to do an art foundation course, but I was told I couldn’t because the college didn’t have wheelchair access.
I reminded them of the Disability Discrimination Act [now the Equality Act] and they had to make changes to accommodate me.
Accessibility has increased, but I still get told: “You can’t come in here, you’re a fire hazard,” or: “There’s no access.”
Being discriminated against makes me feel as if I’m not worth the same as everyone else. But there have been unexpected benefits since the crash, and I focus on the silver linings.
I’ve presented two BBC documentaries: Licence To Kill, about young drivers dying, and The World’s Worst Place To Be Disabled?.
But my big break happened when I was chosen as a lead presenter for the Rio 2016 Paralympics. Since then I’ve gone on to present the Summer and Winter Games.
Every year, I mark the occasion when I had my crash and I call it a celebration, because I count my blessings that I’ve got so much from what’s happened to me.
I’m lucky to be here. I’ve been given the chance to live, when I very nearly died. That means I grab life with both hands and make the most of everything.
- Driving Forwards: A Journey Of Resilience And Empowerment After Life-changing Injury by Sophie Morgan (£16.99, Sphere) is out now.
As she lay unconscious after the crash, Sophie heard her mum’s voice saying: ‘Come back, please don’t go’