Stories

OUR STORIES


Malakai - My Story

My name is Malakai Tava and I am between a C2 and C3 quadriplegic. In 2003 I had a neck during a rugby game and I was taken to the PA hospital and I got told by the doctor to have an operation or retire from football all together, and I chose to retire from the football.

Three months time I decided to purpose to the love of my life and we went to Mooloolaba to celebrate our engagement with a couple of our friends and also to celebrate their survival of the Bali bombings in 2002. On that day my life was changed. I went for a swim after we all had lunch at the life saving club, I was swimming in between the flags and after the 20 minutes of being in the water I decided to body surf my way back to shore. The first wave I caught didn’t take me all the way back to shore so then I decided to go back to get another wave but as soon as I put my hand back and my head down I saw white sand and knew straight away it was a sand bar. I tried to put my hand forward to protect myself but it happen so quickly, I hit my head on the sand bar and I was floating in the water face down. I tried to move and turn over but I couldn’t move my body, I knew something was wrong and I said to myself “I hope someone comes to rescue me soon otherwise I’ll die here”, after a little while I prepared myself by taking the last mouth full of water which allowed me to feel at peace and that’s the last thing I remember.

I woke up four days later in the PA hospital and I saw a photo of my son beside my bed and I thought I was at home until I looked up and saw my fiancé Julie and the doctor beside my bed. The doctor then explained to me I had a spinal injury between C2 and C3 and that I would be breathing from a ventilator for the rest of my life because I drank so much salt water therefore both of my lungs had collapsed.

During that time I didn’t talk because I had breathing tubes in my mouth and nose to keep me alive, I didn’t know what to feel or think at that time. I closed my eyes and had a silent prayer and I said “god if you can give me one more chance at life, I will try and change my life for the better then how I was before”, when I opened my eyes I felt inner peace and I knew in that moment everything was going to be okay. From that time onwards I was focused trying to recover and also prove the doctor wrong. Day after day I was improving and my confidence was increasing. One night during ICU I asked a nurse to take off my ventilator she replied “don’t worry I will look after you”. I later dosed off to sleep and it was the best sleep I’ve had since I’ve been in ICU until I was woken up the next morning, it was a noise beside my bed and it was the doctor and two other nurses asking who was the nurse to take off my ventilator I describe to the doctor the nurse but no one fitted that description and I knew it was an angle.

And from that day on I knew I would improve, I couldn’t wait to get down to the spinal injuries unit so I could start my rehab and recovery. On my first day in the spinal unit the one thing I was looking forward to was to have a shower, just to have the water run on my body and on my face, just to feel normal again after being bed bathed for 3 months in the ICU.
All forms of rehab were hard for me; it made me feel like a baby again even trying to sit up was hard. I couldn’t even hold myself up properly without the help
of the physio. Even going to the OT every afternoon didn’t make it any easier, because I couldn’t do anything for myself. In that time I tried everything I could possibly do by myself.

After the six months I was in the spinal unit, I got told by the doctor my time in the rehab unit was finished and that I would get discharged. I was so happy to hear him say that to me, and I asked him when I will be going home, he replied if your family can’t look after you, you’ll be going into a nursing home. I said to him that I was too young to go to a nursing home but he replied to me that there is no support for people with spinal injuries if they don’t have family or insurance so they can be able to live within communities. I was so frustrated when I heard him saying this to me, but I knew I had to do something to change the system and that’s when I made a campaign. I refused to leave the hospital and I took up a campaign to the government to change the system. It became public through media and the pressure was too much for the government-minster of disability to handle. He agreed to have a meeting with me and my fiancé and that’s when I explained to him about having a spinal injury, I said it is hard enough having a spinal injury as well as the added pressure of being separated from my family. I said to him I wanted to live with my fiancé within the community with support so we are able to live happy instead of being treated like second best.

The outcome of that meeting was successful but I made sure that this was not only given to me but others who have a spinal injury after me will have the same treatment as me, and we would continue working to improve the system. That’s when I left the hospital and now my fiancé has become my wife, we also have a daughter together and our life is looking positive in every area. We have good and bad days like everybody else but that’s what makes us human beings.

Patrick - My Story

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Hello my name is Patrick Dillon, I sustained a Spinal Cord Injury six years ago while swinging of a rope into a shallow river, which left me a quadriplegic without the use of my arms and legs. After 30 years of my life being able to do such as working, playing football, surfing and other various activities which involved the use of my arms and legs, and then all of that taken away in a split second was a huge shock. After spending 14 months in hospital I was quite overwhelmed and scared with the thought of what it would be like living back at home.

I was very lucky with the fact that I had huge support from family and friends which made the transition a lot better than what I had first thought. At first, I didn’t know what to do with myself, the technology I had been sufficient enough to do the basics, but I wanted so much more, and after watching every movie ever made became bored and frustrated with my life. I decided then and there that I was going to achieve something and make the most of the bad situation that I had been presented with. I started to converse with occupational therapists and technology people on different gadgets and ideas I had which I could use to either study or re-enter the workforce. Due to the fact that there was not a huge amount of people in my situation, the ideas and technology was not quite there.

It took a while, but we managed to put together some great devices which enabled my life to become a lot easier and independent. With my independence growing, I started to embark on many different other challenges and social activities which five years ago I thought I could never achieve. So over the last four years I have completed a diploma in community services, certificate four in training assessing and currently volunteering at a transport company and doing school talks whilst doing a law degree. My life has definitely still got its moments, but I am achieving more than I would have ever imagined being able-bodied. I understand that everyone has different circumstances and abilities, but there is always someone out there that may be able to give advice or help help, point you in the right direction or inspire you to achieve more. I was scared and stubborn at the start and ended up wasting a whole year of my life doing nothing; with the ever-growing technology there are heaps of gadgets and support now helping to achieve these goals and dreams.


Joe - My Story

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Hi, my name’s Joe Salu. At the time of my accident I was working for a formwork company as a truck driver. One day I was sent to one of our job sites to pick up some steel shutters and had to return them back to the hire centre. The shutters had been stacked by the tower crane. The crane crew put them on my truck. But they had not stacked them properly and when I got to the yard I untied the load and a pack of steel shutters weighing 240kg rolled off the truck and landing on my back damaging L1 vertebrae, injuring my spinal cord. Making me a paraplegic.

After spending three months in the PA‘s spinal unit, I left the hospital. Coming home was whole new ball game. I was afraid to even go out and get the mail out of the letter box for a fear that I would fall out of my wheel chair and, not having any nurse’s around to look after me, I wouldn’t be able to get back in. I spoke to the physio about how to pick myself up if I fell out of my chair. It was hard work but it was something I desperately wanted to learn and it took me a couple of weeks to gain confidence in doing it myself. The next thing was too make sure things were right around the house. Ramps, bathroom and kitchen renovations were built by Work Cover builders to help me around the house. At first they were fine, I didn’t know any better, I had just become a paraplegic and I thought they were the experts and knew what to do. Big mistake. Over the past few years we have renovated our bathroom, kitchen and access ramps around the house it make life easier for me.

I joined Sporting Wheelies Gym then joined a number of other programs with them. One of them was the Walk On project, which is a rehabilitation program for people with spinal injuries. I would have to credit them with helping me learn to walk with crutches and helping me to keep a positive attitude. I also joined wheelchair basketball and it was great to get back into sports and meet other people in wheelchairs. Life now is good; I’ve done a bit of travelling to Canada, New Zealand and Fiji. I now have my independence back which was my main goal for me, my wife and family.


Vaughan - My Story

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Hi, my name is Vaughan Bedford I am an incomplete C456 quadriplegic of 7.5 years. I grew up on a large wheat, sheep and cattle property in South Australia until I turned 18 when I started work in the mines, then later in construction as a rigger all over Australia and eventually brought my family to live here to Brisbane. Being quite the adrenalin junkie, racing dirt bikes all my life working as a tower crane rigger was the perfect job for me. Throughout my life, I made it over some hurdles that stop most people and each one just made me a stronger person mentally. 

However, on that Thursday afternoon on September 2006, I remember laying on the M1 not able to move or feel anything and thinking, shit I should be in a world of pain, this hurdle is going to be tough. A few weeks later after coming off the morphine and back down to earth at the spinal injuries acute ward in traction, the doctors gave me their diagnoses as a complete C456 quadriplegic and your condition will not get much better than this. I told them I will prove you wrong, I will beat this. So with a positive and stubborn attitude and the dedicated support of so many family, friends, nurses and WorkCover I set about achieving that goal. Every week there was a small improvement with a little more movement and feeling, so after seven and a half months in the unit I pushed for my discharge, it felt like I had been there for a lifetime.

Once home I continued to chase that goal even harder. After 4 years of hard-dedicated rehab hydrotherapy in the beginning then Walk On at the sporting wheelies gym for 12 months, with the help of some very dedicated personal carers, I did achieve my goal to a certain extent, but achieved so much more along the way. I may not have got over that hurdle and actually beat this spinal injury, I still lived with it every day, and some days it tests me, but that is life though, I have learnt to adapt and over come any hurdles my injury throws at me one at a time. Ever since I left the unit, it has been my passion to help show others you can live a fulfilling life after a spinal injury if you have the right attitude. Think outside the box, adapt and overcome, there is no can’t, just different.


Catriona - My Story

It was high summer 2000. I was 27 years of age, a vibrant young woman with a husband as wild as me, and 2 young children, a boy and girl aged 6 and 4. My dreams were of love and family and having fun, holding, caressing, loving my family, with the joy and comfort of being held and loved. But in one instant, one blinding flash and stab of pain, those dreams were shattered—at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

I had just returned with my family from a 3 week beach holiday and was going downstairs with a glass of water when, on the 3rd to last stair, I lost my footing. Like a light switch, everything from the shoulders down was instantly turned off. I lay motionless, with no feeling, and breathing with great difficulty. I knew I had broken my neck. I also knew my dreams were over. By the grace of God my husband Todd heard me calling. I remember laughing at him in disbelief: ‘I’ve broken my neck’. He meanwhile, in the confusion of the moment, started to give me mouth to mouth resuscitation. As my ability to breathe deteriorated Todd called the ambulance. But strangely, despite the gravity of the situation, I was feeling a deep peace and calm. My heart and faith told me that in the midst of it all I was going to be OK, and ‘all will be well’.

I remember praying the ‘Our Father’, and what seemed like the Holy Spirit settled in my heart. It was the beginning of a new life — for all of us. I gradually came to realise that the situation was more serious than I had at first imagined. As I subsequently found out, my neck broken at vertebrae C3 and C4. For 3 months I was fully ventilated with a question whether I would ever be able to breathe by myself. At best I would be in a wheelchair and as a quadriplegic totally dependent on others for the rest of my life. But with Todd always faithfully by my side, and the children in their own way trying to cope with my inability to hug and hold them or help them with their schoolwork and play, we together gradually faced up to what life would mean for us all as a family in the future. Taking life 30 seconds at a time, facing life’s daily challenges one at a time, we climbed our own Everest -arm in arm. As I reflected on that split second between life and death, hope and despair, freedom and paralysis, I knew also I could either blame myself, the stairs, the universe, God, my family, or embrace my situation with hope and faith, and a certain amount of optimism and joy. I wanted to live, but only as a trusting, hoping and happy woman, open as far as I could to whatever the future held out to me. I consciously made a decision that I would place my future in God’s hands. And another hope gradually presented itself, namely that besides inspiring our own family I could be a beacon of hope and inspiration to others who might be faced with the same stark future and disability as I was facing myself.

While I could not physically hug and hold my loved ones and friends, my heart could embrace and my own struggles inspire the many who like me found themselves in one way or another at the crossroads between life and death, hope and despair, faith or self-pity. My story could offer a lifeline to many floundering in the dark waters of despair, searching for that beacon and outstretched hand of love, hope and faith. I have learned that by the grace of faith, prayer and love which only God can give, my sorrow can be another’s joy, my pain another’s comfort and my tragedy another’s triumph. Even in the most tragic of circumstances we need not suffer alone. I have spent 14 years in and out of loneliness, madness, depression and fear. But I can say that, for the most part, I am today smiling, hope and faith filled, with a vision that, with my family, I am walking towards God and he with outstretched arms is running towards me. Someday I will be born again and fully alive in body and soul with God, my family and loved ones, in that New World promised by Him, completely healed in body and soul. In the meantime if there is anyone I can help to realise that same hope and dream I willingly offer my story and experience. That is why I have also offered my services to ‘Spinal Home Help’ with the possibility of offering my experience to inspire anyone I can to embrace their life with hope and trust, knowing that real strength is within and the heart is the platform for all growth and renewal, and nothing can paralyse the heart except despair and fear of moving forward to the light of God and eternity.


Maxine - My Story

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I really believe, now, that my destiny to become involved with SHH was marked out for me on the 31st May 2006 – that day, in a split second, our lives were changed forever. Ross and I moved to Goshen Station in 1997, life was busy with the day to day running of the station, mustering, land management, running a low key tourism venture, family and wonderful friends and neighbours – life was good. My name is Maxine and my husband sustained spinal injuries after an on property accident while we were loading cattle on our property in North Qld.

After almost 16 months in the Spinal Unit at the Princess Alexandrea Hospital, We finally returned to our beloved Goshen after the house had been modified for Ross’s needs. Through his strength and determination he regained a certain amount of independence in being able to feed himself, move around the station surrounds freely, clean his own teeth and other small milestones which may have been insignificant to others but to us, to Ross, they gave him back just a little of what he had lost. He never questioned ‘why me’, this was the hand we were dealt so we got on dealing with it. Ross continued to manage the property with the help of a manager and in conjunction with his sons.

We modified a vehicle to enable Ross to still get around the property, help with the mustering, moving mobs of cattle, we spent a lot of time in the little green and yellow JD gator covering kilometres over the property sometimes 3-4 times a week. Ross fought the fight of his life but sadly lost that fight on 11/11/2013 after battling health issues. No words could describe the pain of losing Ross, we were still making plans, this was not supposed to have happened, and we were to grow old together.

I couldn’t come to terms with my loss, I needed help, I needed someone to understand the void in my life of losing him, for the last 7 years of his life it was ‘the two of us’. What I found in the seven years after Rosses accident was that there was all this support for the person in the wheelchair but little or no support for the partner after leaving the Spinal Unit. (and in my situation where I had cared for my husband so intensely) left behind after his passing. I had sought help from other areas. I wanted to talk to someone that knew exactly how I felt, I wanted someone to listen and to understand the feelings and emotions of such loss. Someone that has actually experienced all these feelings and emotions that I was feeling, from having a partner with spinal injury or after the loss of their partner themselves. After leaving the property and moving to Brisbane, I came into contact with Vaughan who told me about Spinal Home Help. I liked what I was hearing about SHH so asked about attending their meetings and workshops.

The SHH peer support has helped me tremendously, And I now want to help others in the same situation, if I can help others by just being there to listen, then that would be a great sense of achievement and fulfilment. I believe that this support should be an integral part of a spinal injury rehab program


Courtney - My Story

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My name is Courtney Bedford; I’m 19 years old and aspiring Nurse. My dad, Vaughan is a quadriplegic and this is our story. Dad had his motor bike accident when I was 10. It was 2006, late in the year. Mum and I were going through paper work for my school camp and were trying to get in contact with Dad for the Medicare card number. We called a few times as Dad was not answering. Eventually an ambulance officer answered the phone and said “Vaughan has been in an accident, please come to the princess Alexandra hospital”.

Dad had been in many motorbike accidents before due to his passion of racing, however this time we all had a feeling it was much more serious than any other time. We all feared we would never see him again. That night when we got to the hospital we were taken into a private room where a Doctor told my family and I that dad would never walk again, as he had broken his neck. Being so young I didn’t understand what that meant. It was not until I had seen him for the first time, laying flat in a hospital bed with tubes coming from every direction of his body and a room full of doctors and nurses, that I realised how serious it was. We all stood in the room intimidated not knowing what to do or say.

My brother and I in turn stood up on a stool beside his bed so we could see his face and speak to him. It was at that moment when I put my hand in his asking him to squeeze that I realized how serious the situation was. With his limp hand in mine, he looked at me as if he had no idea who I was, because of all the medication they had him on. It had hit me that his life, our families’ life, and everyone acquainted with Dads life would change. My brother and I had to leave the room because it had gotten too much for us and we broke down in mum’s arms.

When Dad moved to the spinal unit in Princess Alexandra Hospital, he spent close to 8 months rehabilitating and learning to adjust to his life as a quadriplegic. We all adapted to the situation eventually, but it was dad’s courage and positive attitude that kept us afloat. We admired how positive dad kept with his amazing stubborn will power; he just kept trying and never gave up hope for life. When dad was discharged from the Spinal Unit and came home, life became normal again… our normal. Things were different and everyone was healing, but mostly we were just learning how to adapt to this new life style. Every day was a challenge for dad but slowly he learnt how to do things he used to but in a different way. With the help and support of family, friends and carers he has come a long way in the past 8 years. Now that I have been part of Spinal Home Help, and know how their programs are run, if we had them when dad was discharged it would have made the transition much easier.

Since then so much has changed within our family. It has not been an easy ride I assure you, but we have all made the journey together. I am so grateful to have the amazing man I call my father here with us today. The support and love he reflects on other people is something really special only he has. I look up to him, he is my everlasting inspiration. We have an amazing relationship that I am so thankful for. It was an unfortunate and life changing accident that happened, but we all tried to see the positives and move on with life. My Dad is still able to support me in every way I have needed. We count our blessings every day.


Steve - My Story

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Hi, my name is Steve McLeod. Forrest Gump once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” My life has definitely been that. I was born in Toowoomba, but grew up in Bundaberg. As a typical Aussie boy, I loved the outdoors, but most of all, I loved sport. I played everything I could – cricket, volleyball, I swam for the school team, but mostly, I succeeded at rugby league and basketball. To play basketball in a country town, especially at the end of the 1970’s, meant you played in poor facilities and coaching was limited. 

League was number one. However, I was lucky enough to play in representative teams for both sports. Another of my great life experiences was attending high school in the USA. This was unheard of in those days, unless you were a rotary student. My parents made a huge sacrifice, and here I was at 16 years of age going to school and playing basketball in America. What an experience! I returned to Brisbane to finish school, and made the decision to have a go at rugby league. There were no Broncos in those days. I was signed as a colt at Wynnum Manly in 1987, where Wally Lewis was head coach. This led to the first change of direction in my life. I broke my wrist during the pre-season, which resulted in two surgeries that year. Initially, the doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to play contact sport anymore. However, after the second surgery, I was able to start playing basketball again.

I managed to make some basketball representative teams, and never went back to rugby league. In 1989, I was asked to travel to the USA with the Brisbane Bullets and trial for the team. I made the team and played for two years – 1990 and 1991. Then, once again, my life changed direction when I was diagnosed with a rare knee injury, which ended my playing career. Fortunately, I had always studied, so I finished my education degree and became a PE teacher at St Josephs’ Gregory Terrace for several years. However, the professional ‘sport bug’ was still strong, and I returned to the Brisbane Bullets – firstly working in Junior Development, and eventually as Assistant Coach. I loved the team environment, competing and travelling all over Australia. Another door opened in 1998, when I was offered an opportunity to work in the medical industry. I saw this as a chance to set my family up for life. Starting as a territory manager, I ended up owning my own medical distributorship. Work was hard, but the rewards were good. In 2007, my life changed direction yet again. While overseas at an international Orthopeadics Conference, I experienced the first signs of a condition called Neurosarcoidosis – a rare disease that affects the central nervous system – in my case, hearing, vestibular and spinal cord damage. Following extensive diagnosis and ongoing treatment, I now use cochlear implants to hear in both ears, and work around my mobility and balance issues, by using a combination of Canadian crutches, a walker and a manual wheelchair.

This disease is very rare and the ongoing treatment is somewhat experimental. Each year, I continued to deteriorate and eventually in April 2014, I was admitted to the Spinal Unit at the PA Hospital. Over time, the disease has infiltrated my spinal cord in the cervical region of my spine, causing me to have all the symptoms of a spinal cord injury. Whilst the spinal cord injury is proximal, the disease has affected me mostly below the waist – yet another rare response, not well understood by the medical profession. My time at the Spinal Unit was eye opening. At first I felt I didn’t belong, with many people in worse situations than me. However, once I was aware of how the Unit was able to help me, I became more comfortable and focused on my treatment. Since then, my health has stabilised. However, my work situation had to change. I couldn’t work as an Orthopaedic Distributor any longer, as this required many hours of standing in operating theatres with Orthopaedic Surgeons. So my beautiful wife, Heidi and I opened two retail businesses. We sold one of these businesses in January 2015. Fortunately for me, yet another opportunity presented itself at the start of this year, and I accepted a role as General Manager of Power Mobility, a company that sells power chairs, scooters, mobility aids and healthcare products.

We are all the sum parts of our own experiences, in our careers and in life. While my life looks slightly different now, I am determined to put my knowledge and experience to best use, and live as ‘normal’ a life as I can. I have been told to let my disability be my opportunity. For me, the greatest opportunity has been spending more time with my family, since I was diagnosed in 2007. What a great gift! Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell my story, and if I can ever be of assistance to Spinal Home Help, I would be happy to help.


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