Fundraiser launched for mountain guide from Sheffield who was left completely paralysed and only able to blink after skiing accident

A fundraising appeal has been set up by the family of a professional mountain climber from Sheffield who was left paralysed and trapped in his body after a skiing accident which resulted in a devastating brain stem stroke.

Friday, 22nd February 2019, 13:59 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd February 2019, 14:02 pm
Dave and Hannah Hollinger (Photo: Ed Smith)

Dave Hollinger, 43, is a professional British Mountain Guide and a national centre instructor at Glenmore Lodge in Scotland, and was used to climbing some of the worlds most challenging mountains.

So, it came as a total shock to the father-of-two when an accidental fall whilst out on a family skiing trip left him unable to move any part of his body – apart from his eyes –  and also paralysed his vocal chords leaving him unable to speak. 

Hollinger family photo (Photo: Ed Smith)

Dave and his wife Hannah moved to Carrbidge in the Scottish Highlands from Sheffield in 2016 – where they had lived and worked for 14 years – after he accepted the role of a Senior Instructor at the National Outdoor Training Centre, Glemore Lodge, in Aviemore, Inverness-shire.

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An active mountaineer, he was excited that his two young boys, Toby, aged four, and Finley, eight, would be able to grow up and enjoy the full outdoor family experience and that Hannah could continue her NHS career at Raigmore Hospital, a career, coincidentally, focused on supporting and helping people with neurological issues.

The family ski day, at the Lecht Ski Centre, Aberdeenshire in March 2018, was meant to be a chance for quality family time ahead of Dave travelling to Ben Nevis for work.

Dave on a mountain (Photo: Ed Smith)

It was also Mother’s Day but sadly, the day took a turn for the worst when, on his final ski run, Dave’s skis caught and he fell hitting the back of his neck on a snow fence post.

Although Dave managed to get back on his feet he knew he had a significant injury and needed to be fully immobilised for the journey to hospital.

Hospital scans confirmed that he did have a fractured C6 vertebrae in his neck.

However, at this stage it was clear the fracture was stable, the spinal cord was undamaged and all being well, a full recovery would be expected once the fracture was given time to heal.

Dave cragging on rocks (Photo: Ed Smith)

Sadly, several hours later, Dave suffered a serious brain stem stroke, caused by the severe whiplash of the initial trauma to his upper neck.

Hannah his wife and a qualified nurse was the first to recognise the signs and raise the alarm, but Dave was left in a totally different world after he gained consciousness.

The stroke had left Dave in the grips of ‘Locked in Syndrome’ with a ventilator controlling his breathing, and he was unable to move any part of his body or speak, but he was fully cognitive.

Dave Hollinger (Photo: Ed Smith)

From this moment on, with the support from his wife Hannah, and personal determination and resilience, Dave has been fighting back.

Regardless of the physical and psychological climb ahead each day the mountaineer has inspired family and friends to find the strength to make the smallest advancements to recover a better quality of life.

Now in Sheffield, at a specialist neuro-rehab facility called STEPS, Dave is free of the ventilator.

He cannot stand unaided or walk, but there is strength in his body and he can achieve movement with support from others.

He can also turn his head when people enter the room, and slowly raise a hand as a greeting.

His facial paralysis and locked jaw continue to be a frustration, especially for a man who delights in conversation but patiently he spells out sentences using an electronic Eyegaze device and is able to communicate.

While the family have been staying near the specialist rehab clinic, supported by family and friends in Sheffield, Hannah and Dave have now made the difficult decision that, in February, Hannah and the boys will return to Carrbridge, Scotland.

Dave will remain in Sheffield as the specialist rehab unit is the best chance he has to continue to strive towards his goals - to walk, eat a Sunday Dinner and bake Hannah a cake as this all happened just before Hannah’s birthday last year.

His wife Hannah said: “As you can imagine, for someone who was always so active to be so immobilised is incredibly frustrating for him but compared to where Dave was last March, where he only had eye movement, he has made huge amounts of progress.

“His attitude, positivity and ability to look forward is incredibly impressive for all to see and he is constantly defying the prognosis of medical experts. The Physios and other staff at STEPS are excited about his progress and his attitude to rehab because there is no doubt this is as much a psychological mountain as a physical one.

“It’s going to be a long haul, and this is certainly the biggest climb of his life so far but if anyone can do this - it’s my husband. All that focus and inner strength that he once used conquering the highest mountains as a mountaineer, is now beingchannelled into recovering as much functional movement as possible. I’m in total admiration of his progress, so far.”

On his GoFundMe page Dave said: “To say our world has been turned on its head would be a mild understatement. Whilst I've not lost any cognitive function my motor control was reduced to blinking.

“I'm not going to dwell on the negatives, hardly the thing for the start of a new year, but while Hannah is keeping the show on the road in the most humbling way imaginable my role has been reduced to fighting for every bit of motor function I can get back.

“It is a huge mountain to climb and I am still at the bottom but climbing mountains is what I do and with the progress so far I am at least over the bergschrund...

I also know I have benefited from a huge amount of support from the start from friends near and far. I am truly grateful, and my state of mind is better for it. I have 'typed' this using a simple but slow eye tracking system. I can't promise to produce much text (some of you will say that is a good thing!) but I will try and let you know how I am getting on.”