Broken neck marked start of Ryan's miracle journey

Ryan Sorrell has recovered from a broken neck and will tour Argentina in August with NSW Country. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR
Ryan Sorrell has recovered from a broken neck and will tour Argentina in August with NSW Country. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR


For 17-year-old Ryan Sorrell a five-centimetre scar on his neck is a constant reminder of the horror of being carried from the rugby pitch with a brace around his neck but no feeling below it.

Last July, the NSW Country player, in a game for club side Woonona Shamrocks, fell awkwardly in a seemingly innocuous tackle that left him unable to move and fearing the absolute worst.

"I got clipped from my right side and fell over [and] rolled forward," Sorrell recalled.

"I felt a crack in my neck and I lost feeling from the neck down straight away.

"It was absolutely horrifying. I didn't know what had happened. I just couldn't feel anything.

"I wasn't screaming because it hurt. I was screaming because of the shock of it because I couldn't feel anything."

He was rushed to Wollongong Hospital and underwent surgery after doctors discovered he had fractured his fourth cervical vertebrae, ruptured his disc and torn all but one ligament from the bone.

"I didn't have any feeling in my legs or left arm. I had feeling in my right arm but if someone touched it I would almost cry it hurt that much," Sorrell said.

"After about three or four days, I got the feeling back and I ended up walking to one of my surgeons' rooms. When I got there, he said I was a millimetre away from being a quadriplegic.

"The first thing I asked was 'how long am I out for, how long until I can get back on the field?'.

"He said 'you're lucky to walk again; you'll never play rugby again'.

"After that I broke down. It was the first time I cried after breaking my neck."

Desperate to salvage a promising rugby career, Sorrell sought a second opinion from Wollongong neurosurgeon Jerry Day, who performed another round of surgery.

"He was really confident he could make me new again and able to play again," Sorrell said.

"After the surgery he said keep it easy, start your light training.

"He went all around America and spoke to guys who'd dealt with spinal injuries in American football. When he came back he said 'you've got the all clear, you can play again'.

"Literally that afternoon I was back out on the footy field."

The mental scars remained and Sorrell sought help from NSW Waratahs star Berrick Barnes.

"Berrick Barnes helped me a lot and Allan Gaffney helped me a lot. They thought the best thing was just to tackle someone and get tackled. I started with a walk through and when that was done I knew I could play.

"I worked at everything, my kicking, my passing and my defence, and it slowly came back and my confidence just grew."

His rejuvenation was complete when he earned his second Country jumper, which will see him tour Argentina in August.


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