Former Wallaby Rob Horne has revealed he suffered paralysis in his right arm as a result of a life-changing nerve injury while playing for Northampton Saints in April.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the incident at Welford Road, Horne outlined the fears and challenges he’d faced in dealing with the traumatic injury but said he would now embrace the new opportunities of a post-rugby life.
“I am still in the early stages of what has been a life-changing injury and event for me,” Horne said in an interview on the Saints website.
“It’s still very early days but I am getting there.”
Horne and his family moved back to Australia last week to be near support networks but they’ll return to England in October after Northampton announced on Wednesday they would be hosting a Testimonial match in the 28-year-old’s honour at Twickenham.
Fundraising from the Northampton club - through ticket-buying supporters and also at the game - will go to towards Horne’s ongoing rehabilitation, the Saints said.
Northampton will play midlands rivals Leicester in the Twickenham clash. It was against the Tigers that Horne suffered his injury while making a tackle.
In the emotional interview, the 34-cap Wallaby explained the nature of his serious injury, and fears it could have been more serious.
“Early on we couldn’t put too much out there because we didn’t know. I have been through a fair journey in a short space of time,” Horne said.
“What happened is that I suffered a brachial plexus avulsion, meaning that I detached the five nerves from my spinal cord which control my shoulder, arm and hand.
“As a result of that, I have full paralysis of my right arm and currently with chronic pain.”
Former Wests Tigers forward Simon Dwyer suffered a similar injury in 2011, which ended his career.
Horne said he’d initially told medical staff on the field he was fine,and that he’d wanted to get up so his wife Simone, who was in the stands, wouldn’t worry.
“I said my family are here I don’t want to show that I am hurt,” Horne said.
“Then (Northampton physio) Matt Lee, who was securing my head and neck, said: “Rob, you haven’t moved your legs yet”.
“That’s when I went: “Oh, I haven’t”. I was kicking and kicking and kicking, and I got my right leg moving. And then from there I thought “okay, maybe I should listen to the medicos”. Probably for the first time in my career.
“Everyone who was first to the scene did an incredible job and I was very fortunate to have that level of expertise around that. Because there are plenty of stories about people who didn’t have that.
“I will be eternally grateful for those guys (Saints and Leicester Tigers staff) for helping me in that situation, because without that immediate response it could have been a lot worse.”
Horne thanked the Northampton club and supporters, and the wider rugby community as well, for their support in the subsequent months as he received “world class” treatment in English hospitals.
A very humble man, Horne said he initially baulked at the idea of a testimonial match for him when it was proposed. But he came to understand the honour attached to such an event.
“It is overwhelming,” he said.
“The term testimonial is not something I have had much exposure to in Australian rugby or in the Southern Hemisphere. It is just not really something that is done.
“But I know up here it is very much a privilege and something you have to earn.
“I guess I have come around to that it is just those people who want to show their support.
“At Twickenham as well, one of the great venues in world rugby and I have a lot of special memories there as a player. To have that finish my career I guess would be a pretty special memory.”
Horne said he is “still very much myself “ and slowly re-adjusting to a different life.
“Obviously I have had a life-changing injury. You make plans in life, everyone makes plans, and then things happen. You re-set and go again,” he said.
“I am certainly going to embrace what's ahead and the new challenges and new opportunities that I suppose would never come into my thinking prior to this. I guess that’s what a life-changing event does, it resets the way you think about things.
“Suffering this injury, it was hard. When things happen you go online and you Google, and you find a lot of misinformation and things you just don’t need to find.
“It was quite difficult at the start to put pieces in place to try and get my head around it and understand what’s happened.
“The brachial plexus injury is not a common injury. If I can champion and give some exposure to that type of injury, hopefully there will be more interest and more research into that field and things can progress from there.”
The Northampton-Leicester testimonial game will take place at Twickenham on Saturday October 6.