Stuart Mangan uses the word 'perfect' quite a bit.

Which considering the 25-year-old Hammersmith & Fulham rugby player is paralysed from the neck down and facing the rest of his life in a wheelchair while needing 24/7 care - is quite a surprise.

The fly-half broke his neck in a nothing friendly in April at Hurlingham Park, 'going into a ruck at the wrong angle', as he puts it, rather than the more obvious scrum collapse that eventually claimed the life of a 23-year-old last week.

Daniel James made worldwide head-lines as the youngest assisted British suicide when he ended up in a Swiss clinic - but Mangan has nothing but praise for James's parents.

But the idea the Hammers' man ever wanted to follow suit, when up to six nurses help move him from bed to chair, is calmly dismissed with a steady look.

"For him, it looked as though the cup was half-empty, for me it's half-full," Mangan says with a slight burr to his Irish accent - the result of not being able to talk for three months after the accident.

"But Daniel's parents loved him enough not to selfishly hang on when he didn't want to lead a second-class life," he adds. "I guess it comes down to a difference in personality between us. Maybe, there was something there anyway that helped him to that decision."

But for Mangan the future is one of 'opportunities'.

He will move into a Bayswater flat when he hopefully leaves The Royal Orthopedic Hospital in Stanmore next month - and the electric bill is going to be enormous.

He's already on course to master a routine that will depend on a voice-activated computer, phone, TV - and everything else needed to help him lead a 'normal' life.

Right now they're a pile of frustrations: "Sometimes they work - sometimes they don't," he says as his eyes flick to a pile of equipment in the corner of his hospital room.

He will have a chair controlled by a kind-of wired up steering ball in his mouth - and seven carers a day: two in the morning; one through the day; two in the early evening; and two on 'sleep-over' duty: "in case something happens ..." says Mangan.

He admits it would have been easy to make 'something happen' when his breathing machines in the hospital 'alarm'. "Just hold your breath - and you don't have to do much more," he adds. It's a pointed hint that a trip to Switzerland wouldn't have been necessary. But Mangan wants more of the moments when he discovered he could eat again.

The moment when a piece of straw-berry in August 'tasted like heaven' after four months of tube-feeding through his stomach.

The moment when he takes a first trip around the new Westfield Centre in White City, and in the distance, the moment when he has a chance to work again.

The banker joked he's not so sure his former occupation will welcome him back with open arms though - and he means the credit crunch, rather than his own circumstances.

But the rugby player has got past the devastating stage of coming to terms with his new life.

He says: "It's now become annoying rather than awful because you've just got to get on with it. Friends have said I'm brave. Not true.

"It's brave when you get choices - I haven't."

I promise to send him an Elvis CD to add to the collection he wants - although he also likes wine and cheese.

"Maybe it could be Elvis's cheesy songs" he adds, "that would be perfect."


Rugby followers throughout the country are being urged to donate £2 (less than the cost of a post-match pint) to the Stuart Mangan fund.

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