Millionaire Lichfield property developer Samuel Leeds has been told he will never walk properly again after being injured in a freak accident while leading a mission to bring fresh water to African villagers…..
The Christian entrepreneur was with his brother and a team of volunteers on a white water rafting adventure designed to prepare them for the tough challenges ahead when the incident happened.
Samuel (27) was flung from his boat when it capsized in rapids and hurled down a waterfall on the River Nile in Uganda, shattering his kneecap in four places on rocks.
Having lost 25 per cent of his blood from the knee, he underwent emergency surgery and now faces the possibility of another operation after returning home with his leg in a full plaster cast. Doctors have also warned him he will have a permanent limp.
His brother Russell (29), from Handsacre, was also on the raft, along with his wife Anna and seven other people. He spent a frantic 45 minutes searching for her until she was found nearly a mile down the river. She was treated for a chest infection, caused by breathing in water, and a sprained knee.
The rest of the party, including Russell, escaped mainly with cuts and bruises. They continued with the purpose of the trip after Samuel gave them a rousing pep talk from his hospital bed.
Describing his near-death experience as like a ‘horror movie,’ Samuel revealed it was just the start of a nightmare that tested his ‘warrior’ mentality to the limit.
During the operation in Uganda to wire his knee together, the anaesthetic failed to work fully on him and he could see everything that was going on.
He says he also endured hours on end without food or water and at one point was left lying in his own urine-soaked sheets for two hours.
More drama was to follow when a Zimbabwean businessman who had heard of his plight persuaded him to move to a different hospital. On the way he swerved in front of the ambulance in his car and forced it to stop…….
Samuel feared he was about to be kidnapped, but the Good Samaritan was just trying to point out a better route after being frustrated that the ambulance was travelling too slowly.
When Samuel arrived at the new hospital a doctor advised him to return to the UK. His mother, Sue Gray, flew to Uganda and back in a day to accompany him on the journey home. He had to pay £10,000 to get home, needing extra space for his wounded leg.
Samuel and Russell run the Leeds Group, based at Hilton Hall in Essington. At the core of the business is Property Investors UK, a national training business teaching around 400 people a month how to become financially free through property investment strategies. All the volunteers on the mission were successful investors trained through the firm’s academy. They accompanied the brothers to see how their profits could also benefit people in need.
Back in Lichfield this week, Samuel recalled the moment he feared for his life.
“The boat capsized and we all got thrown down a big waterfall with rocks everywhere. All of us had lifejackets and helmets on, but it was a life-threatening situation. The people from the rafting company said when they saw us fall they thought there would be deaths.
“People were screaming. Everybody got taken off separately. Anna and another team member, Alastair, were washed away. They were underwater a lot of the time and getting drowned until Anna managed to grab a branch. Alastair went down another waterfall and was badly bruised. Then they got picked up by one of three rescue boats. It took 25 minutes to find everybody and another 20 mins to locate Anna and Alastair.
“It was a Thank God moment when we found them.”…..
He added: “I was like a rag doll in the water, getting knocked around by rocks. When I plunged down the waterfall my knee smashed into a rock and I knew it was bad. I could feel it fizzing. I was very frightened, but also worried for my team as I felt responsible for them.”
The brothers were hauled onto one of the boats and it was clear Samuel had suffered a terrible injury. Blood was pumping from the wound even though a rescuer had wrapped a bandage around his knee eight times.
“I could see my two bones were separated, but my priority was to get everybody rounded up. I thought someone else could be injured worse than me.”
Despite being in severe pain, Samuel insisted on everyone going to hospital for a check-up.
They called a minibus taxi to take them to the nearest hospital, an hour away, but due to the remoteness of the area, it took 3.5 hours because they had to cross the river first to get to a road.
The day before the accident Samuel had held a ‘Warrior Boot Camp’ to get his team ready for the harsh conditions they would face in the bush during the week-long trip.
Samuel is managing director of the Leeds Group and handed over the reins to Russell who is CEO of the company.
“They were all shaken up and wanting to go home. So I said yesterday we had Warrior Camp in the classroom. Today we have Warrior Camp in real life. Is there anybody who is physically unable to continue with the mission? If so raise your hand. No one raised their hand. I told them warriors do hard things and act in spite of their mood. At this, they all said yes, yes, and I sent them away.”
He spent the next seven days on his own in a hospital where patients were expected to organise their own food supplies.
“The operation was awful. I couldn’t feel pain, but it was just like a living nightmare. I was shouting, but I was aware of everything. I started thinking about my wife Amanda back in Lichfield who is expecting our second child.
“Afterwards I kept asking for water and about the success of the operation, but they just shushed me and put a gas mask over my face.
“Finally they came and gave me a drink, but ignored me when I wanted to go to the toilet. After four hours they gave me a condom and told me to use that instead. It went everywhere on the bed. There was no buzzer, so I had to shout for a nurse. I was left like that for two hours. It was a far cry from an NHS hospital.”
Hours later, a nurse took Samuel to the shower and sat him on a plastic chair which felt like it was about to break.
“I really lost it then. I’m thinking if this breaks I’m done and I’m going to really hurt myself. So I said to the nurse the chair’s breaking. Please pass me my crutch! Then the phone rang and she just left me. She came back after 15 minutes and passed my crutch, rolling her eyes at me.”
It proved to be the last straw for Samuel. He summoned a nurse who had been kind to him earlier and demanded to see the doctor.
“When they came I said ‘Do you know who Arnold Schwarzenegger is? They said he’s a Hollywood actor. I showed them a picture of me with him. I then said do you know who Sylvester Stallone is and they said yes, Rocky. I produced another picture of me with him. I shouted ‘These men are my friends – don’t mess with me!’ I’d only met them both briefly – but it worked and my treatment improved from then on!”
Samuel first went to Africa when he was 18 and fell in love with the continent and its people. He visited a village in Zambia where the inhabitants had to walk 12 miles to a well. He vowed he would return if he was successful in business and build a well there. By the age of 21, he was financially free and paid for a borehole to be built.
Last year he visited a village near Kabale in Uganda where the children had bloated stomachs from drinking dirty lake water. So he spent his own money on two 20,000-litre tanks which collect rainwater.
Russell and the team returned this year. The children no longer had swollen bellies and the villagers’ lives were transformed. The team ran a free business workshop for budding entrepreneurs and handed out free business loans to the winners of a Dragons’ Den style competition. They also identified new places desperately in need of fresh water. The Leeds Group sets aside 10 per cent of its profits for charity and the church.
Despite his ordeal, Samuel remains upbeat and is determined to beat his negative prognosis.
“I will grow as a person from this experience and I have tremendous faith in God. My knee might be broken in various places, but my spirit is intact.”