‘I’m lucky to be here’ – York shopkeeper who broke his neck in two places is back in business

Declan Doyle, still wearing a neck collar, back at his shop. Photographs: Richard McDougall

“They told me how lucky I was.”

The words of York businessman Declan Doyle, who has returned to work after a freak accident nearly cost him everything.

Declan, who runs The Sole Man shoe repair and key cutting shop on Church Street, fell down the stairs at home – and broke his neck in two places.

It left him in hospital for three months, where he was fed through a tube.

But he is now back behind his counter – and has just signed a new five-year lease on the shop. And, after a nightmare few months, he’d certainly welcome your business!

‘The hangman’s fracture’

The Sole Man is back in his workshop
Declan has run The Sole Man for ten years. He commutes in six days a week from his home in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.

Then in mid-July came the accident that was to change everything.

“I got up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, still half asleep,” he told YorkMix. “It was pitch black, I went through the wrong door, fiddling around trying to get the light on.

“The next thing I know I’m at the bottom of the stairs.”

His wife and son were with him in the house and dialled 999.


“Even when the ambulance picked me up I didn’t realise there was anything seriously wrong. It was only later on in hospital they told me how bad it was.”

Doctors discovered he had broken his neck in two places and had lost four vertebrae. Declan said:

  • It’s more commonly known as the hangman’s fracture. Because it’s the sort of fractures you get from the noose.

    They told me how lucky I was. People who have these injuries are often left paralysed, or they don’t make it at all.

He also broke his hand, an injury that only came to light some time later.

Couldn’t eat anything

‘We can save your sole’
Declan was moved from Lincoln County Hospital to the specialist spinal unit at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham.

He had to wear a metal ‘halo’ – a large frame that goes over the head and shoulders and “stops you moving at all”.

Surgeons then fitted a mesh cage inside his neck, attached by screws.

For three months he couldn’t eat a thing – swallowing was potentially dangerous as food could have gone into his lungs. So he was fed by a nasal tube.

The severity of his injuries left Declan considering his future.

  • When it first happened I thought there was no way I was going to ever work again. It was so serious.

    As I got stronger I thought I’m going to have to have a go at least.

‘Brilliant’ neighbours

‘The girls in the sweet shop across the road have been brilliant.’
The business closed for four months – but that didn’t stop the bills coming in.

So despite still being in pain, possibly facing another operation and wearing a neck collar, Declan reopened The Sole Man.

“It’s difficult, but needs must,” he said. “It was very quiet for those first few weeks. It’s started building up again now.

“The locals have been coming in constantly, wishing me well.”


And he said “the girls in the sweet shop across the road have been brilliant”. They gave out his completed repairs to customers, and forwarded on get well soon cards.

Declan is clearly made of strong stuff.

  • It’s hard to keep smiling, but you’ve got to.

    I’ve just signed a new lease for five years. I’m looking on the brighter side.

And that’s despite having suffered another – thankfully minor – fall on the stairs earlier this week.

“Perhaps I should get a bungalow!” he joked.

‘Businesses looking out for each other’

Card image cap

Andrew Lowson, executive director of the York BID (Business Improvement District), said businesses were rallying round Declan.

“We were alerted to Declan’s misfortune by James Waggott at the Antiques Centre York on Stonegate. This is a great example of the strong business community we have in York.

“Retailers are very busy, so it shows real seasonal goodwill that independents are looking out for each other.

“It fits nicely with the support the BID is doing for independents, through the funding of organisations such as Indie York, who have a chalet this year on Parliament Street, promoting the great independent offering we have in the city.”