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Winning at life! James' story ...

"I'm out on the golf course!"


James walked confidently into the café to have a coffee with me. It was brilliant to watch.

In January 2017 James and his wife Sarah were enjoying the last days of their summer holiday in Golden Bay. He had pins and needles in his feet before bedtime but nothing to worry anyone.  He woke up in the early hours – still had pins and needles, and his leg felt a bit weak when walking … but nothing to worry about?  Woke up an hour later – still had pins and needles and both legs felt weak .. maybe it was time to worry.  He woke up Sarah and they decided to visit the local medical centre.

From there they were directed to Nelson Hospital, and then James was transported to Christchurch Hospital.  By now the pins and needles were gone – he couldn’t feel anything from his chest down.

After a couple of weeks in Christchurch Hospital he was transferred to Burwood Spinal Unit (BSU).  James distinctly remembers a time when he thought “I might never walk again.  But I need to make  sure I work my hardest to achieve the best possible outcomes I’m capable of – no-one else can do this for me.”  He says he ‘gave himself a talking to’.

Not long after his arrival at BSU (and several MRIs later) his specialist suggested that the original diagnosis of Transverse Myelitis might be wrong – it could be a compression of the spinal cord which surgery might be able to correct.  James was willing to risk that surgery.

And the risk paid off.  He started to get a small amount of movement in his legs – that was something to work with.  James remembers the team at BSU – medical, physios, OTs, Peer Support, Vocational Rehab – worked seamlessly together.  It was hard to tell where the DHB stopped and NZST started.  “Everyone was focused on each person’s individual best outcome.  I felt like I owed it to them to do my best, give it my all, to honour their work.”

“I remember the first day I walked again – May 11th.  It was hard work – it was scary – it was exhausting, mentally and physically.  But I was up on my feet and I’d thought that might never happen again.”

James says he will never forget the people he met while in the Unit – his roommate Neil, his physio Brendon, his OT Sonya and NZST staff, particularly Brett and Deb. Peer Support outings gave him something to look forward to – going to the rugby got him back out in public, outside the sheltered surrounds of the Unit.  And Deb’s work to facilitate his return to work was invaluable.  James says he was very lucky that his employer was willing to keep his job at the liquor store open as long as he needed. They were willing to make adjustments to the floor layout, and counter heights to accommodate a wheelchair. Their genuine support – his Area Manager flew to Nelson to visit him in that first week – was a strong motivator as James loves his work, the interaction with the many different clients, and he has amassed a huge knowledge base about wines and whiskeys which he’d have hated to mothball.

James Album

As a Ministry of Health client, James wasn’t eligible for the same levels of funding that ACC clients receive.

He had to organise his own ramps when he first went home (NZST loaned him some portable ramps that did the trick) and he needed to buy his own car with hand controls so he could get to work (our Brett sourced a 2nd hand ex-rental).

Deb liaised with James and his boss on the gradual return to work plan – James started with two four-hour shifts a week and slowly increased as his physical and mental strength permitted.  A cheer went up around the NZST office in 2020 when we heard that James had returned to his full 40 hour week!

James is now not only working, but has the energy to engage in physical activities during the weekend as well – he’s back into lawn bowls and golf … even gardening.

How does James sum up his winning at life moment?  “If I’m out on the golf course and hit a triple bogey I don’t care.  I’m out on the golf course!”

James knows he’s something of a rarity – not only walking out of the Unit but also making a full recovery.  And he’s very appreciative of that.  He’s grateful for all the support he’s received through all facets of his rehabilitation.  I’m grateful for his superb advice on whiskey selection … 😉

For those who sustain a spinal cord impairment through illness, rehabilitation and recovery is often made exponentially more difficult by the reduced funding available.  At NZST only 20% of our annual income comes through government sources – that leaves a million dollar hole that needs to be fundraised.

You now have an opportunity to help others like James to get the support they need to embrace a positive future.

We are not part of any DHB or ACC.

We are not a government funded organisation.

We are a charity that relies on the generosity of our community to deliver world class peer support and vocational rehab services, community advocacy and provide a comprehensive collection of resources for anyone with an SCI – whether in a chair, using mobility aids or walking freely, their whānau, carers and therapists.

When you donate you join NZST’s team and support positive futures.

Please will you back my team by donating today?

Donate directly to our bank account: NZ Spinal Trust, Westpac Parklands, 03 - 1597 - 0101190 - 00 (Use your name and 'AA2021' as reference)

OR CLICK HERE to donate using your credit or debit card.

Double the impact – Double the awesome 😎

Best of all, if you give to this appeal your gift will be doubled by the generous team at Access Community Health – they believe in our ability to deliver (they've seen it in action through partnering our Whanau Peer Support service) and they're prepared to match every single dollar donated before September 25th. So, your $25 donation means $50 to NZST, $100 becomes $200, $500 becomes $1,000 … you get the idea.

Access Community Health will match up to $15,000!