Hull man left with brain injury in Pave attack tells of long road to recovery
IT WAS a drink with friends in a west Hull bar that changed his life.
Today, father-of-two Paul Spence bears no physical scars of the attack.
But the damage inflicted in the unprovoked attack by a stranger can be seen.
Paul had been in the toilets of Pave in Princes Avenue, west Hull, when he was punched to the ground by Stephen Shepherd – a judo coach.
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It followed a mass brawl in the bar, in which Paul had not been involved.
Paul, 32, crumpled to the floor, his head striking the floor with such force that his brain hit the front of his skull, causing life-threatening bruising.
But he refuses to allow the attack to rule his life and shrugs off any hint of sympathy, no matter how well intended.
"I want to finally put what happened to me to bed and make new memories," he says.
"It's about looking ahead to the future and moving on with my life."
As if to prove the point, Paul fires off details of a half-marathon he has organised for Easter Sunday – the anniversary of the attack.
He will be joined by 60 of his family and friends, keen to raise cash for the neurological ward at Hull Royal Infirmary, where he received intensive treatment.
"Every step of the way, I will be thinking about how far I've come and the people who have helped me get there," says Paul. "I have been told by doctors and nurses that I could easily have died. I am lucky to be here.
"This run I have organised is about achieving a personal goal and I want Easter Sunday to be a day I will always remember for the right reasons.
"I'm no longer a victim – and that's important."
Paul has no recollection of the attack.
He says: "I can't remember anything up to three weeks before the attack. It's all a blank.
"Apparently, I had been doing my fly up when I was hit."
Witnesses described how the impact sounded like "two snooker balls hitting each other".
A jury took just 30 minutes to convict Shepherd, 47, of Highfield Close, Sutton, of grievous bodily harm. He was jailed for 16 months.
His brother, Mark Shepherd, of Hathersage Road, east Hull, who was involved in the brawl, was jailed for eight months after pleading guilty to affray.
"Justice has been done – that's all I would like to say," says Paul, who insists he does not want his recovery marred by bitterness.
Paul, who lives with his girlfriend Gemma Clement, 29, in Beverley Road, west Hull, was placed in a medically induced coma for a week.
Fortunately, he did not require brain surgery.
Today, he still suffers memory loss, seizures and speech problems.
"The long-term effects of a brain injury are not really known," says Paul, who has undergone speech therapy.
"I'm told everyone is different.
"For the first three months, I couldn't do anything for myself.
"I would just sit for hours at home, looking out of the window – either that or I would pace up down.
"I lost all concentration. I couldn't even sit and watch telly or read a book.
"I couldn't leave my house, because I would have got lost. Living with a brain injury is very frustrating."
Paul has two children Reece, 14, and Shannon, 15, from previous relationships.
"The hardest part of all of this is not being able to remember the birth of my son," he says. "And that really hurt.
"It hurts, too, knowing my children have seen me messed-up. It's a pride thing."
Electrician Paul has now returned to Humber Electrical in Hull city centre.
"I only work part-time," he says. "I used to be the foreman, but I have gone from the strongest link to the weakest."
Paul paid tribute to his family and friends.
"They have pulled me through and I am just so grateful to them all," he says.
"They would sit with me, sometimes not talking, for hours. Just knowing they were there was enough.
"My partner, Gemma, is an amazing lady. She has seen me at my lowest and she carried me."
Paul originally planned a solo run.
"As soon as I told people what I was planning, they all wanted to join me," he says. "I now have 60 or so people signed up.
"A good 80 per cent of them are not runners. Most have never done a 10k run – let alone attempted 13 miles.
"I have been close to tears, I don't mind admitting, when they give me updates on their progress."
Runners will start in Bilton, where Paul grew up, before passing through Swine, to the finish point in Skirlaugh.
At 1pm, a family fun day will be held in the headquarters of the Bilton branch of the Royal British Legion.
Paul wants his story to inspire others who have suffered brain injuries.
"Recovering from a brain injury is a slow process," he says. "But you can get better and I hope my story gives people hope."
Paul is asking business to donate raffle prizes. Anyone who can help is asked to email email@example.com and details will be passed on.