Slide Rachel Smith-Ruffle

My Story


This is my story; hope you enjoy! ❤️

I broke my neck in a diving accident abroad when I was 23 when I was hit by a freak wave in the Indian Ocean, hit my head on a sandbank and very nearly drowned. I was told I would never walk again and that I would be forever in a wheelchair. They were right about that…..but despite all that I’ve learnt to drive again, adapted a home, got married, had a baby, worked and travelled, all from my rolling throne.

Read the full story below.




Fast forward 21 years….. 2018 was an awful year health wise, I got a really bad pressure sore and had to be on complete bedrest for 15 months. The only place I went was to hospital appointments lying down on a stretcher, transported by ambulance. I was rushed into hospital twice with sepsis and was told my pressure sore was not suitable for surgery and that I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed again. I am 44 and have a husband, a 10 year old daughter, a bonkers dog, a home, work, friends & family and I love to travel and explore. This naturally really affected my mental health and I had to see a psychiatrist and started taking anti depressants.

In June 2018, after 5 months of complete bed rest, my husband bought me a simple set of watercolour paints. He could see how depressed I had become and that I was only a shadow of my former self. I scoffed at him as I had never painted so what made him think I’d be any good? I started to paint and eventually started to enjoy it and before long, I was painting most days. Then people who visited started seeing my work and asking me to paint for them and I realised they really genuinely loved my work which gave me confidence in my abilities and brought me joy so I kept at it. ❤️ Before I was confined to bed, I had absolutely no idea I had any kind of artistic hidden talent and had never painted before.

I started to sell paintings in late October and have continued to sell successfully. ‘The Wonky Artist’ comes from the fact that I painted a lot lying on my side in bed (and still often do!) , using both hands to hold the brush as I have no hand grip due to the extent of my spinal injury. Straight lines are therefore never truly straight, creating a unique style hence the birth of ‘The Wonky Artist!’ I started a Facebook page and an instagram page around the same time and used them as a platform to showcase my work, tell people about the issues I had and reach out to others who might need help. I now have over 10.5k FB followers and over 1,800 on insta and there is still much to do!

One of the main reasons I had become so depressed, was because for the first few months, I didn’t get the right help. I contacted my spinal unit who said there was nothing they could do to help so I changed units and they said they could help but that their waiting list for surgery was 2 years long and that I would have to be on total bedrest til then. I even enquired about going privately but their waiting list was 1 year, not to mention the £200,000 they told me to factor in for treatment! I told myself there must be another way, so I googled and googled and after 7 months of 100% bedrest, I eventually found a surgeon who was prepared to operate on my pressure sore. All that time, he was working at a hospital just 2 miles away from my home and months later he told me he had done his PHD on pressure sores in spinal injury but had ultimately chosen to work in more general plastic surgery. Fate must surely have dealt a hand in that!!!

So in Jan 2019, I had a 7 hour operation to repair the pressure sore plus 3 blood transfusions as I lost so much blood during the surgery. We then had to wait a month to see if the surgery had been successful….a rollercoaster of a month, that was! It was finally established that it had been 95% successful but I then had to undergo 4 more lots of surgery to repair the remaining 5%. I was in hospital for 3 months. The very first day I was allowed out of bed and back into my wheelchair after 15 months of bedrest, was on the 21st anniversary of my accident…another hand of fate perhaps?

I returned home to my husband & daughter at Easter last year. I am still working on my recovery and continue to become stronger and independent-it’s kind of like being newly injured all over again, 21 years down the line. I still have down days but am so grateful that despite all the initial waiting and despair, I was given a whole new lease of life, thanks to my surgeon and his amazing team and I try hard not to take things for granted. I continue to paint and work on originals and prints.

My recovery has been quite is a slow process, I am working on regaining strength (MUST do more exercise!) whilst also restoring energy and regaining confidence I lost from being in bed for 15 months and choose to hold on to the positive progress I see. I have had to increase my time sitting up slowly and initially under close medical supervision, now fast forward 13 months from my surgery and we have just spent a week as a family together in France. I am even managing to drink 2 large glasses of wine without falling out of my chair, now that’s REAL progress!

My longer term plan is to keep painting, keep reaching out to more and more people, create beautiful art for you which makes you smile and brings you joy, help and inspire others, keep getting stronger and continue to explore new places and experiences. My first time out of bed again after so long, I wheeled my way down just outside the hospital ward to a window where the grass outside was covered in beautiful, yellow daffodils. A beautiful, simple sight to behold. Going forward, one of my main goals is to remember to appreciate life’s very simple pleasures, they are mostly free and widely available, we just have to train ourselves to notice and appreciate them for a moment before moving on to our next lot of busyness.

I am also hoping to start doing some motivational type speaking, to relay my story and reach out to others. Please share with people in your life who may benefit from learning about my journey, let’s keep reaching out to others as they will in turn feel less alone in their own journeys through life.

Finally, try not to take the simple things in life for granted, as none of us know what’s round the corner.

Thanks for reading,

Rachel x

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