Dan’s arduous journey from despair to the realisation of a long held dream.
Dan was working as a volunteer youth worker with street child worker in Latin America when a tragic diving accident in the Amazon left him paralysed from the shoulders down. This happened on New Years Day 2010.
Directly after his accident Dan was taken to an ill-equipped hospital in a small town in the Colombian Amazon where he spent three days until finally being transferred to an intensive care unit in Bogotá by air ambulance. Dan’s condition remained critical however, and in the days that followed he suffered three cardiac arrests as well as a collapsed lung and pneumonia. Upon hearing of his accident Dan’s mother and sister flew out to Bogotá to be with him during these difficult and precarious moments.
While events were unfolding in Colombia something quite remarkable was gathering momentum on the other side of the Atlantic. A friend of Dan’s started a Facebook group called the “Help Dan” campaign in order to raise money to fly Dan back to the UK in an air ambulance, something not covered by his insurance policy.
In little over four weeks £100,000 was raised by over 9,000 people in 42 different countries in a massive outpouring of human kindness. With his mother and sister by his bedside, Dan witnessed the goodwill messages and funds flowing in, giving him a much needed boost and the motivation to carry on at a time when he wasn’t sure if surviving was worth the effort.
On 23rd February 2010, once his condition was considered stable enough to make the journey, Dan was flown back home to the UK. Upon arrival in London he was immediately admitted into the Stoke Mandeville Spinal Injury Hospital in Buckinghamshire to receive specialist treatment for his injuries and to start intensive rehabilitation.
After a long and gruelling year in hospital Dan moved to a continuing care home in the town where he grew up where he remains until today. This more tranquil environment closer to home and his support network gave him the time and peace of mind to reconsider his future and harness the determination to start working towards his aspirations.
The end of the year 2010 marked the first anniversary of his accident and in 2011 Dan started the process of rebuilding his life, making trips up to London and reacquainting himself with friends not seen since his accident.
The next big step for Dan was to find some kind of work that would utilise his skills and experience and in April 2011 he was approached by a local charity called Spinal Research and asked if you would like to be an ambassador for them. Since then he has done talks in schools spreading awareness about spinal cord injury and also participated in fundraising events. Not only has this been extremely gratifying for him but also a huge boost to his confidence.
As the year drew to an end up Dan started to feel ready to make preparations make his long anticipated trip back to Colombia and in October 2011 he returned to Colombia for seven weeks.
During the trip Dan participated in an intensive rehabilitation programme at a specialized disability unit in Bogotá called Archangels. He also returned to the hospital in Bogotá to greet and say thank you to the doctors, nurses and surgeons who saved his life in January 2010. After five weeks in Bogotá he travelled down to Cali, the city where he was living in at that time of his accident. There he had the opportunity to revisit the school where he used to work and also to visit a potential partner charity with similar aims and vision to charity he wanted to set up.
All in all it was a hugely successful trip and Dan returned to the UK invigorated, with a fresh appetite for life and more motivated than ever to found a charity to support young people living in poverty in Latin America.
That dream became a reality on the 21st March 2012 when The Dan Eley Foundation was approved as a registered charity by the charity Commission for England and Wales.
In the same month Dan was awarded the greatest honour of his life, being confirmed as an Olympic torch bearer for the London 2012 Olympics. Dan will be carrying the Olympic torch through his home town Godalming on July 20th 2012.
Throughout his journey from tragedy to the present moment he has been supported and encouraged by family, close friends, his community, and many people who he didn’t know before his accident but who upon hearing of his plight came out in force to help him. If it wasn’t for such a response and such consistent support he would not have rediscovered the self belief and strength to get to where he is now and have the opportunities he has in front of him.
So moving has this great expression of human kindness been for Dan it has changed his perspective on life and he now feels strongly compelled to “give something back”. Overcoming his personal tragedy increased his empathy towards disadvantaged children and their suffering and reinforced his desire to create his charity.
One of the many lessons Dan learnt is that “where there is a will there is a way” and he hopes that the transformation in his life can inspire vulnerable children to find the hope, self belief and determination to make a success of their lives.
Since the charity was launched in 2012 it has supported over 225 underprivileged children and young people living on the margins of society through apprenticeship style job training schemes and psychological/social support services. Over half of these youngsters are currently working in salaried employment in a related field.
In addition to South America it was important for Dan to give back locally, as a way of saying thank you for all support he received from his community after the accident. Since its inception in 2012 The Dan Eley Foundation has been providing bursaries for youngsters struggling at school to have the opportunity to try workshop-based vocational skills through a local charity called Skillway.
More recently The Dan Eley Foundation has joined forces with its local sixth form college Godalming College to run annual spring benefit concerts to raise money for some of the most destitute youngsters in the community through its Fresh Start program. These youngsters have been identified as NEETs (not in education employment or training) and are in desperate need of support so they can start to steer their life in a positive direction.
Dan would like to thank all his family, friends and supporters who have enabled his dream to become a reality! The journey continues 😉