ANYONE SUFFERING WITH PAIN? | Our most inspiring tribe member tells her near-death story and managing pain
She’d hate me for saying this, but Ako is legendary. She managed to survive something no one should.
This is a photo of Ako today.
Seeing her now, you would never believe that Ako miraculously survived a 25 metre (82ft) fall, from which she is still recovering today.
It happened almost 3 years ago. Ako, her husband Tim, son Noah (aged 2 1/2), and friends Tom and Jo were on a climbing trip in Mallorca, March 2016. It was their first day climbing and this was a warm up climb. Nothing difficult, (graded 6a), certainly not for Ako who is a very experienced climber. She admits her competitive edge had her looking to the next, more challenging climb. They were at S’Estret in Valldemosa, when a technical rope error led to Ako falling 20 metres landing on hard ground. Speaking with everyone who was there, they had no idea how bad her injuries were and if she’d even survive. It was the most terrifying ordeal to witness and one which haunts them still. It took over 2 hours for the emergency services to reach them as the approach was complicated due to no vehicle access. Other climbers nearby came to help while they waited. Her condition was deemed critical and she had lost consciousness.
Ako was taken to Son Espases Hospital where she remained in an induced coma for almost a month. Her injuries included; broken femur, fractured all left ribs, collapsed lung, punctured lung, splenic contusion, broken vertebrae T8, nerve damage to eye, acromioclavicular ligaments snapped and she was in a post-traumatic amnesia for around 6 weeks following the coma. Ako was finally flown home and spend a further 6 weeks at Leeds Hospital.
Since then, Ako has had to endure several re-breaks and fixes of her femur, eye operations to realign her vision which is still problematic, her shoulder ligaments remain to be fixed. She also suffered brain trauma and one side effect of this meant she had to remember to speak English again as it’s her second language. I spent some time with Ako at hospital consultations acting as translator as well as taking notes. She had so many appointments at so many hospitals with so many different consultants, there was an awful lot to digest and comprehend. I would joke with her that it’s thanks to her Japanese bones that she survived – they’re made of sturdy stuff! Titanium I think.
Witnessing Ako’s tremendous determination and positivity throughout her recovery has been mind blowing and inspiring. You can only imagine the pain Ako’s endured, and pain management has been an on-going challenge. When Michelle and I started The Tonic we gave her our 4% to try out. We didn’t expect too much, but she experienced brilliant results. After only a few days, Ako reduced her pain meds, and soon stopped taking them all together, and reported she was sleeping much better. I met up with Ako recently to see where she’s at with her health and to reflect on the past few years.
About the accident, Ako said “I felt I shouldn’t have survived. Not because of the fall itself. But because I became a burden on everyone. I couldn’t be a mother to my son, who at the time was 2 1/2 and running around. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t get out of bed, I was fighting with constant pain, frustration. Having to have help from everyone. I thought it would be easier I was not here. That’s what I mean by “I should not have survived”. It would have been easier on everyone and I wouldn’t have to suffer the pain.”
When you know Ako, you understand this. She’s so capable, independent, driven and, when it comes to sport, competitive. She went from 100 to zero in a second. Before the accident, Ako had previously worked at Leeds Depot climbing wall where she trained every day. Following motherhood, Ako still managed to climb 5 times a week. Her life was focused on training, climbing, weight training, diet control.
“My greatest achievement was ‘Super Cool’ 8a+ at Gordale, in Malham”
I asked Ako how she feels about herself now. “I am here because of the people around me. I can do most things for myself now, I can enjoy more like parties, climbing, achieving things again. I’m not as competitive as I was.” But she certainly wouldn’t be where she is today without that competitive edge, that fight. She’s the strongest woman I know.
How else has your life changed? “This experience has definitely changed how I look at life. I have slowed down and become less selfish with my time. I feel I had to have this big thing happen for me to appreciate the little things. Tim and I were always close, but the accident has certainly brought us closer in a different way.”
Have you set yourself any challenges and goals? “I have started climbing again, but now it is for fun, it’s not for competition. I recently bouldered 6a+ at Widdop last summer and continue to climb at indoor climbing walls once a week.”
Ako recently got into mountain biking, as a form of low impact exercise, but also to get out onto the moors. Walking is still painful and awkward, so she can cover more ground this way. She’s also swimming regularly, in door pool and wild swimming in local reservoirs.
Here’s the 4% that Ako recommends