PBF Program Administrator, Injury Prevention Program
“Always focus on what you are doing”
Life in general was fantastic and 2002 was going to be a great year! I was a self-employed tradie and we had just come back from a long overseas holiday with the plan to move to Australia.
On 16 May 2002 I had finished work early, so as a keen triathlete decided to head out on a training ride leading up to a local competition.
This is the day my world was turned upside down. Following a road accident I suffered permanent damage to my spinal cord resulting in paraplegia. Emergency surgery for 10-12 hours pinned fractures in both my neck and spine. My rehabilitation program took 8 months in hospital, including 8 weeks in a collar to repair the broken bones in my neck.
During this time my entire life was put on hold, along with my family, friends and plans. As an incredibly motivated person, things eventually moved forward and my dream to live in Australia was fulfilled. Being a little sports mad I now enjoy the sports of para-triathlon and hand-cycling, as they give me the freedom of movement that I desire.
Professionally I hope I make an impact on everyone who hears my story through my role with PBF Australia and our safety programs.
PBF Community Partnership Assistant
“Don’t put your family and friends through it!”
Program: Aqua (QLD)
It was a typical steamy Australia Day long weekend in the summer of ’77 and a group of mates in their late teens were camping and fishing on South Stradbroke Island. They were joined mid-morning by one of the boy’s bosses, who was cruising the Broadwater in his 12m Bay Cruiser. An invitation was extended to join him on-board to fish from the comfort of deck chairs rather than the hard seats of the “tinnie”.
The hotter and steamier the day became the more inviting the water looked. I decided to dive in to cool off . I had thought the water was plenty deep enough, but I was wrong. In that instance my life changed forever.
A split second decision resulted in C5/C6 quadriplegia. Quick action by a mate saved me from drowning, and the calm assessment of the situation by the boat owner prevented potential further spinal cord damage.
PBF Presenter & Community Partnership Manager
“The only thing that we are given in life is opportunity. It is then up to us to make it work for us; although no-one said it would be easy!”
Tony South (OAM) is 73 years young and has been a T1 paraplegic since the age of nine when he was shot.
His life’s commitment is all about seeking ways and means to prevent people from sustaining paraplegia or quadriplegia. Moreover, his efforts are focused on working towards a cure and funding research and support for those living with paraplegia or quadriplegia.
Tony’s appeal to all Australians is for us to help PBF to ease the impact of spinal cord injuries in our community.
“Accidents don’t discriminate – they can happen to anyone and everyone.”
I was a 26 year old plumber, married with 2 young daughters. I had a house, 2 cars and had just won the Bodybuilding Qld State Championships. The 20th January was a 40 degree Sunday afternoon. I had been working overtime since the Friday night, because a large storm had blown through the centre of Brisbane causing considerable damage to the buildings. At the end of what was virtually three days of overtime, I was up working on a fibro roof.
I remember feeling safe as I walked along the nail lines, but that is the last thing I can recall. The security guard found me inside the building with 3 broken ribs, a punctured lung filling with blood and a spinal cord injury. I must have lost my balance and fallen approximately 8 metres.
Whilst in hospital I remember thinking how was I going to make a living, pay off my house, and put food on the table? Over the next 10 months I lost everything including my marriage. It has been a long road but I have come to realise I am one of the lucky ones. I have competed at the Paralympics in power lifting, owned a gym and re-married. I live as a paraplegic sharing my story with workplaces, with the purpose of creating awareness to prevent this from happening to anyone else.
“I take safety much more seriously than I did before, because I now know and live with the consequences of being blasé about safety.”
Before his accident Paul was working as a supervisor at a water reservoir on the Sunshine Coast in QLD. He and his girlfriend were planning on starting a family. He enjoyed riding motorbikes, fishing, camping and travelling.
Paul was under a lot of pressure at work. When packing up for the day he decided to do the right thing by securing the site, as there had been a theft the night before. The crew knew that the hook on the crane they were using was faulty, as they had tried to fix it months earlier.
Whilst moving the load, a pallet of bolts slipped off and landed on top of Paul. He now lives as an incomplete L1 paraplegic and conducts workplace presentations sharing his incident with people. Sharing how his incident could have been prevented if he had taken more of a stand about proper safety standards at work.
“I believe that safety is very important and the responsibility of everyone. Cutting corners to save time or staying up late so you don’t miss out on things in life may seem like a good idea at the time, but things can go wrong when you are tired or don’t follow correct procedure.”
Jason was 21 years old and working as a shot firer in a satellite mine near Kalgoorlie. The mine was shut down early that day due to torrential rain, so he asked his supervisor if he could go back to Kalgoorlie where he lived with his girlfriend.
Before starting at the mine, Jason was a karate 2nd Dan Black Belt and had represented Australia. He was looking forward to getting home to train at the local karate club. The trip back to Kalgoorlie consisted of 20km of dirt road before the main road. Jason failed to put his seat belt on and about 20 minutes into the trip (doing around 80km on a straight stretch of road) his car hit an old set of tyre tracks and he lost control rolling the car three times.
Diagnosed with a permanent spinal cord injury, Jason was determined to get on the road to recovery as quickly as possible. He conducts workplace presentations for PBF, highlighting that safety is not restricted to the work site. The effects of fatigue and not following the correct procedure can result in life changing injury at any time.
“The choices we make can make a difference to the way we spend the rest of our lives.”
Program: Road/Youth (QLD)
It was Mother’s Day. I was 17 years old and I was meant to go and see my mum, but we decided to go bush bashing with friends first.
My boyfriend and I were in the back seat of a 4WD. It was great fun for awhile, and then things got out of hand. The last thing that I remember was my boyfriend yelling at the driver to slow down. Then I woke up in hospital.
I knew things were serious. My parents were really upset when they told me I’d never walk again. Apparently when the vehicle hit a bump I was thrown up into the roof crushing the C5 vertebra section in my spine. I am a C5 quadriplegic. I have some use of my arms and hands, but need a carer to come to my home and help me with my daily needs.
“An accident can just happen – even if you have not been the one to cause it.”
Program: Road (QLD)
It was just another great weekend in 2007 on the bikes with my mates. We were not even riding hard, it was a casual weekend. I was a self-employed photographer for 10-15 years, married with a daughter and trying for another child. I loved cycling, trained daily and competed in local races. I loved spending time with the family outdoors, camping and gardening.
As a consequence of my trail bike accident, I sustained broken ribs, a punctured lung, 4 broken vertebrae and a severed spinal cord. I am now a complete T7 paraplegic and share my story as part of PBF’s Injury Prevention Road Programs.
“When a serious injury happens, it will have an impact on your family and friends as well.”
I was just a normal teenager – going to school, mucking around with mates, chasing girls. I absolutely loved playing rugby league and archery, but my life changed in an instant one day in the school holidays of 2004.
I had been working for my Dad helping move houses, but on the afternoon of December 11, my best mate came up to our place on his motorbike. We had been riding around on our farm for awhile when my parents left to go to a meeting.
My mate said that he was going for a ride up the road to see another one of our friends, so I jumped on the back. It was a deadly combination – two unlicensed riders and an unregistered motorbike.
“Make the right choices because there are always consequences. I had the warnings – I just didn’t listen to them.”
Four times Paralympian Ryan Scott shares his road safety message with Australia’s youth through PBF Injury Prevention Road Presentations.
At 16 years of age, Ryan was just a normal teenager who liked playing footy, surfing and going out with his mates. One night he was a passenger in a car being driven by a friend, who was showing off at speed and ultimately lost control of his car and ploughed into a tree.
Ryan’s parents were told he probably wouldn’t survive. He did survive but his spinal cord was severed at C5 and C6 and he is now a quadriplegic. The message Ryan shares with the young adults he presents to is, “It’s natural to think it won’t happen to you. It does happen. Be aware it can happen. I’m proof it can happen.”
“Safety was something we had drilled into us at work. My message to everyone is think about things that are in your control. We don’t believe it will ever happen to us. But it can, and it did!”
Program: Road (QLD)
Father’s Day in 1997, James was 30 years old and a diesel fitter in the mines at Mt Isa. He enjoyed going 4-wheel driving and camping around popular fishing destinations. His life goals were similar to many other Australians – get married, own a house and make his way to retirement.
James had been visiting the Birdsville Races with friends, but on their way home the driver of the car lost control and rolled numerous times, miraculously the vehicle ended up on its wheels.
The passenger in the back of the car got out, came around to James’ side and it was in that instant James realised he couldn’t move his legs.
As a result of the car accident, James has incomplete quadriplegia and all his dreams were turned upside down.
“Youth, inexperience and a country dirt road resulted in disaster for me.”
Program: Road (QLD)
I had just finished year 12 when the decision to attend a mate’s father’s funeral changed my life forever. Driving 530km didn’t seem daunting at all – I was 17, had just received my licence and had all the confidence in the world. A long country dirt road was my downfall. I lost control of my vehicle in loose gravel, careered through a paddock fence rolling 6 or 7 times. The driver’s door opened and the top half of my body was bounced against the hard dirt as the car rolled.
A fractured skull, head injuries, fractures to C6 & C7, collapsed lungs and a stroke were my initial injuries. Four months in hospital, another six months in a rehabilitation hospital, then open heart surgery. I left hospital in a wheelchair, paralysed down my left side. Over the next 5 years I managed to graduate to a calliper, leg braces and finally a walking stick.
I currently work as a Teacher’s Aide, drive, swim, and socialise with friends – but I have to contend with people drawing conclusions about my ability or disability. By sharing my story I hope that I can prevent young people from making silly mistakes and taking risks when driving.
“Being in a serious car accident has dramatically changed my life. I am now more aware of the dangers of the road and the responsibility of each person to drive safely.”
Program: Road/Youth (NSW)
I was 19 years old, just graduated high school and working as an assistant to a real estate agent. My dream to sell my first property at 19 came true in March 2014. That night I went out with friends to celebrate, however things quickly got out of hand.
It was 3am and raining. My boyfriend of the time was angry when he came to pick me up. We fought, he was distracted and consequently lost control of the car at speed on a wet road. We headed straight for a pole and the car smashed into it. Instantly I was paralysed from C6/C7.
In hospital I knew things were serious when I saw my dad and sister in tears. I woke from surgery to be told by the doctor that I would never walk again. The realisation of this and the journey has been hard. I am getting more and more independent day by day, attending gym sessions, physio and other rehabilitation programs.
“I remember thinking I’ve really done it this time. I can’t move anything and I’ve messed up mine and my family’s lives. I needed to smile, push forward to make it as easy on them as possible.”
Program: Youth (QLD)
A girlfriend invited me to the Food and Wine Festival. As a busy mum and chemistry teacher at Ormiston College, it wasn’t something I normally got to do. I ran around Saturday morning completing all of my chores, so consequently didn’t have a chance to eat breakfast.
After the Festival I came home by train. The neighbours were having a gathering and I decided to join them. While navigating the side gate at my house, I fell and landed awkwardly. Instantly I realised something was very wrong – I had broken the third vertebrae (C3) in my neck and severed my spinal cord. My husband Michael found me. At hospital I underwent an emergency 8 hour operation to stabilise the vertebra. A day that had started out with such happy expectations, ended with our future being turned upside down.
I am a Complete Quadriplegic and am in a chin controlled wheelchair with the need for a full time carer. I don’t know what the future holds, but I still believe in grasping and running with opportunities when they arise. I became involved in PBF Australia and work with them to raise awareness of how easily spinal cord injury can happen.
“One mistake turned the lives of 4 young people upside down and put our families through hell.”
Program: Road/Youth (VIC)
In 2005 my friends and I decided to have a quiet night in, we were 18. My friend drove us to the video store (he was still over the legal drinking limit from the previous night). As kids we had little understanding of the time it takes for our bodies to metabolise alcohol. I remember getting out of the car and walking into the video store but don’t remember leaving.
On the way home my friend decided to show off, speeding down a quiet residential street, he lost control going around a speed deterrent, over corrected and crashed our car into a house. The car was a right-off, the house structurally damaged and 3 out of the 4 passengers were admitted to hospital with serious to life threatening injuries.
I missed a lot in those 8 months of recovery, but more importantly the accident forced me to grow up – leaving behind carefree Shae. I can’t go back and give her advice or tell her our story. But I can tell strangers to help others avoid the pain and suffering I face. That is an opportunity I can’t pass up.
“What Doesn’t Break You Makes You Stronger.”
Program: Road/Youth (NSW)
On the night of my injury I was 18 years old. We had been drinking and decided to go to a nightclub. After an hour or so we caught the courtesy bus and were dropped at the end of the street of a friends place.
It was about a 10-15 minute walk or 2-3 minute drive to their house, so I rang to ask for a lift.
When they arrived my friend jumped in the passenger seat and I got in the back. I neglected to put on a seatbelt as it was “just around the corner” and I thought I would be fine. Unfortunately the driver lost control on the only corner and we hit a telegraph pole front on.
We were only in the car for literally 10 seconds.
Both the driver and my friend were fine, but I broke my neck (C6 vertebrae) and my spinal cord – I am a quadriplegic.
“Even with good planning, nothing prepares you for the choices people make whilst they are on the road.”
Program: Road (NSW)
It was Boxing Day 1989, I had recently finished my HSC and my family planned to drive to Adelaide for a 21st birthday party on New Year’s Eve. We never made it past Gundagai…
Another driver fell asleep at the wheel and came onto our side of the highway hitting my uncle’s car head-on. My parent’s car was in front of us and managed to swerve out of the way. I was a passenger sitting behind my uncle’s seat and took the brunt of the impact resulting in an L2 Spinal Cord Injury. My life changed forever. I not only lost the use of my legs but I lost my uncle in a blink of an eye.
I quickly realised that I have become an educator whether I want to be or not. Through education I am able to knock down the barriers that pre-conceived ideas about spinal cord injury bring. Through being open and able to talk about my crash, I can encourage people to make better choices to prevent it happening to them. I also want to teach them to see the person before the wheelchair.
“If there is anything I learnt from having my injury, it is to never assume every rider or driver will follow the road rules . You need to take charge and make safe decisions.”
Program: Road (NSW)
I was riding my motorbike home in December 2009. I always took the right measures to ride safely, and this particular day I entered a roundabout turning right where I had the right of way. As I was about to turn out, a driver in a ute (under the influence) came from my left. He t-boned then bulldozed me into the guard rail. My life changed in an instant.
That day my life stopped but so did my mum’s. I lost 7 months relearning basic life skills in spinal rehabilitation. I am a complete T4 paraplegic paralysed from my chest down and I live my life independently.
I have moved on working hard to get where I am today. I serve as a constant reminder that you can be the best rider/driver on the road, but you just don’t know what others will do. I enjoy sharing my story, cracking the stigma of someone in a wheelchair and educating people that it’s more than just sitting down. I am an open book and I hope others will drive just a little bit safer after hearing my story.