Kiteboarding photographer Ydwer van der Heide was surf foiling near home at Noordwijk in the Netherlands in early March when his foil hit the ground and he was thrown forward. Landing on his head he crushed the C6 vertebra in his spine. Unable to move in the water he was rescued by the friends he was surfing with and rushed to hospital by paramedics where he was immediately taken into theatre. After a day on a ventilator and two days without it on ICU, then three more days on a neurology ward, Ydwer became resident at a specialist rehabilitation centre, Heliomare in Wijk aan Zee, where his treatment has continued for the past 16 weeks. Here's an update on his progress, in his own words, as told to his friend, Jim Gaunt

Caption: Sunday 18th April – Ydwer and Marije. Ydwer's first day with a new custom made camera mount for his wheelchair!

WORDS: Ydwer van der Heide

I've now been here in the Heliomare three months. I came into this rehab centre, with very little movement. They keep me very busy all day. My first therapy (including physio, ergonomic physio, psychology, fitness training and even some swimming) starts at 9.30am, but just getting up, washed, fed and ready for that takes a lot of time and effort in itself. Right now my big ambition to make things easier when I leave is to be able to make the transfer from the chair to my bed because it's really hard each day. As I don't have any power in my triceps anymore and my core isn't working properly, I still need a lift from several people. All bodies are different and everyone who comes to Heliomare has unique challenges to overcome. I'm learning so much about the body. They don't do it with everyone, but a positive sign is that I've been able to get outside and ride around using a sit-down e-bike that has pedals which I use with my hands strapped to them. I really enjoy it and we've been trying some slight off-road terrain, but if it's too bumpy I feel it throughout my body and I can't do it for too long. I'll hopefully become more stable in my core, but I guess in the end if I want to do it there will be some suffering. The improvements I've experienced aren't necessarily functional yet. Though I've been able to 'feel' my legs and my body since my accident, 'feeling' and 'movement' are two different things. When I finally managed even just a small twitch in my toes recently and then a movement in my legs, these were real moments of celebration. If you can make a movement, it may then take a long time and your original function may not fully return, but the doctors say they can start to help me to 'train' it.

Yes... badminton at Heliomare!

Using a power assisted sit-on bike, pedalling with his hands

Back on the portrait cam!

I guess the thing that's important to note when you consider your own day-to-day lives is that all the movements I have regained don't happen easily and take such a lot of energy each time. It's amazing how tired I can get. Even sitting is 'active' because, although my core muscles are still there, it's like they're gone because the connection to my brain doesn't work properly. Reaching out, bending down, looking to the left or right; it all takes some co-ordination, concentration and lots of energy, but nevertheless you'll see from the clips and images that I've been able to do some racquet sports from my chair, including badminton and it was nice to be able to even play some table tennis with my girlfriend, Marije (and I scored some good points, actually!). One really important milestone for me from the beginning was being able to use my camera again and the team here have been busy designing a frame that can fit to my chair as a tripod. Although they haven't exactly done this before, it's just an example of the efforts they go to to help people work their way back into society. They say there's a solution for everything. I just received the custom frame last weekend and it's great. I still can't use my fingers to press on anything, but my Canon 5d MKIV has a touch screen on the back, so I can tap it with my knuckle to take a photo!” I don't know if I'll ever be able to walk again as I did before, but that's what I'm working towards. I will be released from Heliomare on 30th June, but of course that doesn't mean my rehab is finished; most people say that's when it really begins...


Finally, Ydwer committed to enter the Wings For Life world run on 9th May. Having taken photos of this annual event in previous years for Red Bull (in which 100% of all entry fees go towards research into finding cures for spinal cord injuries), it was an event that Ydwer said he wanted to try to support since the first days after his own accident.

Along with 118 of his friends and supporters who also signed up as 'Team Ydwer', he managed to wheel himself, unaided, two kilometres! An incredible achievement. Find more on 'Team Ydwer' at: www.wingsforlifeworldrun.com

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Click play to jump directly in to see Ydwer's star appearance on the livestream

Gert-Jan Oskamp and Ydwer, during the Wings for Life World Run in Wijk aan Zee, The Netherlands on May 9, 2021 Photo: Jarno Schurgers / Red Bull Content Pool

Ydwer continues to tackle his rehabilitation with incredible bravery. See more, including clips of Ydwer's progress and find donation information on the link button below and on his Instagram page.

Enjoy Ydwer’s work:


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