Maddi Neale-Shankster: Thai balcony fall survivor vows to walk again

A beautician who was paralysed after falling from a balcony in Thailand says she is determined to walk again.

Maddi Neale-Shankster, from Coventry, plunged 60ft (18.2m) on New Year’s Day last year while holidaying with friends on the island of Koh Phangan.

She had surgery before flying back to the UK and despite enduring several operations and setbacks, she has gone back to work and is about to open her own salon.

“I’ve got to keep going,” she said.

The 22-year-old said the support from friends and family had helped her through the last 12 months and said her accident had changed the way she looked “at everything”.

“Not just even the little things, I think people need to be a lot more grateful at the things we do have,” she said.

Maddi in a white dress on holiday
Image caption,Maddi was on holiday with friends when she fell from a balcony

Miss Neale-Shankster suffered a broken back, two collapsed lungs and her ribs pierced her liver when she fell.

Friends and relatives leapt into action, with a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe raising more than £73,000 to get her home safely.

But her life had been turned upside down. She spent months on bed rest in hospital and said she still experienced pain “like tattoo needles 24 hours a day” despite being on a “never ending list” of painkillers.

Despite this, positivity and a sense of humour have allowed her to look to the future and she has returned to work in aesthetics and nails in mum Karen’s salon, who she said had been her biggest support.

“I need my work to focus, I’ve always worked, it’s what keeps me going,” she said.

“But at the same time, I don’t have a choice.”

Maddi Neale-Shankster
Image caption,She was treated in Thailand before returning home to Coventry in January

Seeing the challenges disabled people face daily had been a revelation, she said, from the time it takes to get ready in a morning to completing every day tasks.

Miss Neale-Shankster uses a wheelchair which is often too big for many front doors, and she said she had been turned away from nightclubs and her favourite high-end shoe shop despite still wearing their expensive heels.

“They told me I wasn’t allowed in because they had limited space, and then went to let someone not in a wheelchair in behind me,” she said.

“It opened my eyes to how horrible this world can be.”

At work, she has to be carried over a step by two people and uses a smaller wheelchair inside the building despite it not being comfortable.

“I never realised how much disabled people went through on a daily basis. I think I was quite ignorant to it,” she said.

Maddi Neale-Shankster
Image caption,Maddi Neale-Shankster’s family raised more than £73,000 through crowdfunding to get her back to the UK

Through social media she has connected with others in similar situations, including paralysed Jamaican dancehall artist Rygin King, who shared a story Miss Neale-Shankster posted on Instagram to his 700,000-plus followers.

By speaking out, the beauty therapist said she hoped to find a surgeon who might take on her case.

She said she feared a metal plate put in her back in Thailand was resting on a nerve and causing pain from her chest to her feet.

“I know my body and I know it’s not right,” she told BBC CWR.

“I know that I need the metal out of my back, even if it [only] stops the pain I’m in, in my opinion it will be a success.”

‘Waking up in hell’

She has found several elements of her care frustrating, including lengthy waiting times and appointments cancelled at the last minute.

“I’m on referrals for appointments in 2026,” she said.

“I appreciate there’s waiting lists everywhere, but I think some things are quite urgent – to lose your whole life at 21 and have to start again.

“At one stage I really wished that I didn’t survive the fall because every day is like waking up in hell.”

The fact her spinal cord was not severed in the fall has given her hope she will walk again.

“Once someone looks at the metal in my back… and I can get the right recovery, then I know I can do a lot more because if I can go back to work and still carry on, imagine what I can do with support,” she said.

Maddi Neale-Shankster
Image caption,The beauty therapist believes with the right treatment she could walk again

Reflecting on the public donations that saved her a year ago, she said she was “so grateful”.

“I still can’t really believe how many people helped me and I don’t really think I can ever show my gratitude,” she said.

“I think if I didn’t have my friends and family, I wouldn’t be halfway where I am today and I’m still nowhere near where I want to be.

“This hasn’t happened for me to just give up, so I’ve got to keep going.

“Otherwise, what was the point of all of this?”

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