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Real Life

Real life: I married the nurse who brought me back from the dead

A terrible accident made my future seem hopeless, but then an angel swept in.

By As told to Take 5

Patrick Bronte, 40, Palmerston North, NZ shares his unusual love story:

I smiled as I watched my mate swinging from a rope tied to a giant tree branch.
"Bombs away!" he screamed, splashing into the stream below.
Refreshing droplets of water hit my skin, and I got up to have a go myself.
I climbed the tree and got into position to jump in.
"Ya ready?" I grinned to my mates.
I extended my arms and leapt.
The second my body hit the river bed, pins and needles surged through me.
Something's wrong, I knew instantly.
Unable to move, I started floating down the river.
"Kick 'im to check he isn't taking the piss," I heard one friend call to another.
I should have been panicking, but as I watched a school of trout swishing around me, I felt strangely calm.
Is this it? I thought as life drained from my body.
Suddenly, I was heaved to the surface and there was a buzz of urgency around me.
I coughed up water.
"I can't move," I spluttered.
Panicked, my mate lost his grip on me. I held my breath as I sunk to the riverbed. Then, another friend helped drag me to the shallows.
I must've zoned out then because next thing, paramedics were leaning over me.
"What's happening?" I asked.
"You've either moved your spinal cord and you'll be back on your feet tomorrow, or there could be more damage," he explained gravely.
I was too stunned to take it in.
At hospital, docs gave me medication to reduce the swelling on my spine.
My head was held in a halo brace to protect me from further damage while I waited three days to be transferred to a specialist unit in Christchurch.
There, I started struggling to breathe and drifted in and out of consciousness.
When I finally came to, Dad was at my bedside.
"Hello son," he said, blinking back tears.
He explained I'd been in a coma for a month after my lungs collapsed from ingesting so much river water.
Then a doctor came to see me.
"You won't walk again," he said abruptly.
I was determined to regain some physical strength. (Image: Supplied)
Distraught, I burst into tears.
Later, a nurse explained in more detail that my spinal cord had been severed and I was now tetraplegic, meaning that I'd lost use of my arms, legs and torso.
"You'll never walk again, but we'll send you to rehab to try to regain whatever movement possible," she said.
My life's over, I thought.
At just 16 years old, this was a huge blow. I loved hockey and had always dreamed of getting married and having a family one day.
Although I lived on a farm with my family, I was fiercely independent and having that freedom taken away from me was torturous. I'd have to rely on others for the rest of my life.
Later, I was transferred to a specialist rehabilitation unit for spinal patients.
Here, I worked with a physio to try to regain movement where possible.
It was gruelling and frustrating, but I was determined.
"When can I try to walk again?" I pleaded with my physiotherapist Jenny.
"Let's start with your arms first," she said encouragingly.
After weeks of hard work, I felt the first wriggle of my pinky in my left hand and it gave me a glimmer of hope.
Over the months, I tried to come to terms with my new life and went through all five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.
Our commitment ceremony. (Image: Supplied)
I didn't want to have to control a wheelchair with my chin, so I worked hard to regain enough movement into my biceps so I could steer it with my hand.
But even with that, it was a huge adjustment.
I used to love skateboarding and playing hockey. Both were totally out of the question now.
When I returned home to the farm, my friends took turns to visiting me and even took me out to the pub occasionally.
At night, I thought about my future. Would I ever find love in this sad and sorry state?
My body might've given up on me, but my cheeky charm still won over the ladies.
I had a few relationships, but I was never in love.
I wondered if I'd ever find my soul mate.
One day, I was getting ready to interview a new carer who'd join my team of 24-hour support.
I needed help cleaning myself, going to the bathroom and eating.
The potential candidate, Julie was waiting for me in the lounge room and my breath caught in my throat as I took in the tall, blonde beauty before me.
I've struck the bloody lottery, I thought.
Julie has taught me the true meaning of love (Image: Supplied)
Until now, most of my care workers had been male so it was a real treat to have some female company.
"Nice to meet you," she smiled compassionately.
Right away, I knew she was perfect and she started working Tuesdays and Fridays. I always looked forward to it.
Julie didn't just look after me, she kept me company too.
"I've got a new movie we can watch," I'd say as she walked through the door. Afterwards, we always talked about the film and then about our lives.
For 18 months, we got to know each other more. She was a single mum and told me about her four beautiful teenage children.
At 22, her life was very different to mine, but I'd done a lot of growing up over the past few years.
One night, as she rubbed balm into my aching neck, I worked up the courage to ask her something I'd been to ever since I first lay eyes on her.
"Will you go out to dinner with me?" I said, closing my eyes nervously waiting for her response.
"Yes!" she beamed back.
We went out on a date and our relationship blossomed from there.
Julie continued to be my carer as we fell in love.
We even celebrated our love in a commitment ceremony in front of our friends and family in the backyard.
Years later, I suffered two heart attacks brought on by complications of pneumonia.
Julie started chest compressions and raised the alarm, which saved my life.
I'll never regain full-body movement, but Julie loves me for who I am.
Over the 18 years we've been together, she's stood by me through thick and thin, when I'm grumpy and in pain.
Julie's not only my best friend and my partner, she's my soul mate and the light of my life, I couldn't be more grateful for her coming into my life.
She's the Wonder Woman I've always dreamed of.

Julie says:

"We're just a normal couple that has loads in common. Patrick doesn't let anything hold him back. He's such a kind man and an amazing human being. The relationship comes with difficulties but so does every relationship. I am very lucky to have met my soul mate."

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