James Lasis, 25, a former Brighton College student who plays for Stade Niçois, was seriously hurt when a scrum collapsed during a match against Rugby Club Narbonnais on April 25.
He has been in intensive care at Nice’s Hôpital Pasteur since then, having undergone emergency cervical surgery on his damaged spinal cord, and he is unable to move his arms and legs.
But James’s mother Judy, who saw the accident happen live on television, said the athlete has remained positive and is determined to recover.
“He hasn’t made an amazing recovery or anything, but he is working his way through,” said Judy, who is now staying in Nice with her husband Karl and eldest son Matthew.
“It’s slow progress but that’s what we knew was going to happen,” she said.
James’s neck is now stable after it was dislocated and he has had two operations on it, said Judy, adding that doctors have fitted a kind of cage around it.
“The spinal cord has been badly bruised and they call it an edema,” she said.
James cannot consciously move his arms or his legs, she said, but he can shrug his shoulders and is getting pins and needles down his arms, which is a good sign.
His legs will also twitch and James can sometimes feel his feet being tickled, Judy added.
“For us there’s been massive amounts of improvement because we know every little bit what’s gone on,” she said.
Doctors told Judy and her family that James is going through a form of ‘spinal shock’, which can take up to two years to recover from.
“No one’s saying whether he will be able to do too much or not,” said Judy, who does not know yet whether James will make a full recovery.
“The key thing is that James is very positive all the time,” she said, adding that doctors and physiotherapists have praised his resilience after having endured so much.
Judy said James caught Covid shortly after the injury, most likely from before going into hospital, which led to bacterial pneumonia, but he was able to recover from this.
He cannot speak yet either, she said, because he has had a tracheotomy put into his throat so a ventilator can help him breathe.
“He doesn’t ‘talk’ talk, he mouths at the moment,” said Judy, adding that James is lucid and able to communicate with both the nurses in French and his parents in English through mouth movements.
He is just now learning to speak through a special device added to the tracheotomy.
“His big thing is he wants to breathe on his own,” said Judy, explaining that the physiotherapy department has worked with him every day to help his diaphragm and autonomic system work properly.
“He’s gone from not being able to breathe at all without the respirator to now doing six hours with the respirator turned off and two hours with it on.”
Judy and James’s father Karl thanked everyone who has sent the family messages of support.
Karl said: “People hear about what’s happened to James, and his drive and desire to get himself better, and they’ve been inspired by his positivity.”
He said the family had been contacted by people who have had rugby injuries, including bad concussions, who have been amazed by James’s positivity.
“When you talk to James he doesn’t see himself in a wheelchair,” said Karl, adding that he wants to walk and play golf again among other things.
“The physios have never come across anybody who drives themselves as hard as James does,” he said.
“He approaches all his physio like it’s a rugby session.”
Both Judy and Karl thanked everyone who donated to the two fund-raisers on JustGiving and Leetchi, adding that the money is helping them pay for accommodation and other expenses, but that any money left over will go to the Matt Hampson Foundation.
Matt Hampson is an English rugby player who had a similar injury to James, said Judy, adding that the foundation works to help injured sportsmen and women recover and rehabilitate.
“That’s James’s next move,” she said, explaining that in the next couple of months James will go somewhere for rehabilitation depending on whether he’s breathing entirely on his own or whether he is still using a ventilator.
One of the possible rehabilitation centres could cost 600 euros a month, said Judy and Karl, and they will need to rent an apartment soon instead of using Airbnbs.
The rugby club is currently helping them find a place to live.
James’s brother Matthew, who is an engineer, is now working online and is in France with them.
“People in James’s situation need their family around them and to have all of us here has been fantastic,” said Judy.
“Matthew quite often will finish work at six or even later and go up to see James at 7.30pm,” she added.
She said they will usually watch a film or watch the Lions play rugby and said the French Rugby Federation (FFR) gave James an iPad pro, which he can use on a specialist stand.
James also watched the England football team play in the final of the Euros with Matthew and a home-made T-shirt featuring three Lions drawn on it by his girlfriend, said Judy.
He is now looking forward to watching more of the Olympics.