Article by Alex Snow, Interview conducted by Milo Kirk
About Kris Aves
Kris is an ex police officer who was taken down during the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge in 2017. He kindly agreed to meet with Milo (one of our Young Leaders at Ethos) to tell his story and raise awareness of spinal injuries.
Before working as a police officer, he used to work overseas as a holiday rep from the ages twenty through to twenty six. He realised when he was around 26 that he was too old for the party life; but the late nights and early mornings were something his body was used to, therefore he wanted a new job to accommodate that.
The police force was always something he was interested in, so he came back to England and applied to the Metropolitan Police.
Kris’ time in the police force
Kris completed his training for the police at Hemden, after this he went on to working at Camden Borough in London. According to Kris his time as a holiday rep had given him some vital experience that he could now utilise as a police officer. These skills include; dealing with pub/bar fights, talking people down from heightened states of emotion, talking to parents about a missing child and partaking in missing child searches.
Eventually Kris moved from Camden response team to become a Liaison officer. During this time, Kris and his squad would often go on demonstrations and marches throughout the town. One of Kris’ “most enjoyable” marches was the one they did for Brexit in 2017, they took “tens of thousands of people through to parliament square and spending five hours walking through the streets of London and bringing them to a demo/rally at the end”. Kris and his team ended up receiving a commendation award for their work in the Brexit marches.
The day of the attack
The ceremony for the award they received took place on the day of the attack (22nd of March 2017). When Kris was asked about his last memory of the day, this is what he said: he remembers getting a pasty and a cup of tea, then going out onto the balcony at Scotland Yard for more photos, he was going down the lift when he realised he’d left his umbrella upstairs so he turned to his colleagues (Brad and Roger) and asked if he should go back and get it or ring someone and ask them to meet him along the way with it. In the end he chose to call someone. That’s the last memory Kris has of that day.
His next memory is waking up eight days later in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) with a tube down his throat, surrounded by his parents and his partner at the time.
Kris remembers feeling scared because he was put in a medically induced coma for a week and couldn’t communicate verbally due to being intubated. He was scared due to not knowing what had happened to him or why he was in the ICU. Over the first 24 of being awake he was drip fed information by his family and partner, he was eventually told that he had a spinal injury but it was too early to determine any long term effects. For around 24 hours, his way of communicating with his family was having his mum read out the alphabet and he would squeeze her fingers when she got to a letter he wanted to use, it wasn’t until day two or three that his dad told him that it was a terrorist attack and he’d been taken down on the pavement on Westminster Bridge, at first he felt angry at what had happened, as it was at this point the doctors had told Kris about the possibility of not being able to walk again.
Kris was kept in the ICU, then he went to a high facility treatment centre, then he was transferred to a rehab hospital. He ended up spending ten months at Stoke Mandeville Hospital and around 2 to 3 weeks at King’s College Hospital where all his surgeries were done, both his legs and his spine had suffered compound fractures which needed corrective surgeries.
Due to the severity of his leg injuries he wasn’t allowed to do any weight bearing exercises, which included using his provided wheelchair, he was only able to do seating practise for around 18 weeks. Kris recalls the first 16 to 18 weeks being very boring due to being bed bound for 22 hours each day, it became abundantly clear to everyone involved that Kris would never walk again. Kris told us that he felt a lot of anger and sadness at the attack and the injuries sustained, but he felt lucky to have so much support from friends and family keeping him entertained. The hospital ended up becoming a home in Kris’ mind due to him being there so long, when he was eventually allowed weekend visits to his actual home, he had to stay in local hotels such as Travelodge and Premier Inn due to his home not being wheelchair accessible.
After his 18 weeks in bed, he was finally able to go into the gym where he learned how to use a wheelchair (it’s not as easy as it looks). Kris joined in on some yoga classes at the hospital and eventually got started on doing weight lifting with his upper body and legs, as moving from a wheelchair to bed, or to the shower seat etc takes a lot of upper body strength.
To Kris, getting back into the gym was super important. When he went into hospital he had three main goals: rebuilding bridges with his family (due to being away for so long), watching football and playing golf again. He was lucky enough to be invited to The Shire in London by The Golf Charity to try their ‘paragolfer’. Kris told us he has a vivid memory of using the paragolfer for the first time:
“I went down on the driving range and I swung this club for the first time, hit the ball, might’ve only gone 15/20 yards but I cried, because it was something I never thought I’d do again.”
He tried other sports while in hospital through a charity called Wheelpower – a wheelchair sports charity – they introduce sports such as; wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, badminton, running tracks on adapted wheelchairs etc while people are in rehabilitation. This helps to give those who’ve suffered a sense of purpose once again.
Kris has previously raised money for charities that help wheelchair users and specialise in injury recovery, disability sports, etc. He did this because he wanted to bring awareness to all the charities that help wheelchair users because you don’t realise how hard it can be in a wheelchair until you’re in one. It was important to Kris that he gave back some support to those who had supported him on his road to recovery. Kris even did a fundraising skydive and all the money he raised was split between Wheelpower and Stoke Mandeville rehabilitation gym so it could help people like him.
The recording of his injury
Kris’ injury was largely recorded due to him being a fallen officer – due to this he was able to be a focal point in order to spread awareness to spinal injuries. He wants to use his injury and story to continue bringing awareness to injuries like his and how important it is to raise funds and bring recognition to the fact that roughly every 14 minutes another person suffers a spinal injury across the UK alone. “There are so many people in wheelchairs in this country (UK) that might not realise that there is something out there for them to do.” Kris feels like by spreading the word about spinal injuries, if he can put a smile on just one person’s face he’s done his job.
To close off the interview, Kris was asked what his goal was and he said that he wants to let other wheelchair users know that there are things out there for them and they aren’t alone in their struggles.
If you would like to watch the full interview, please find it here