Real Life

Real life: I was paralysed days after the birth of my child

I could either feel sorry for myself, or start fighting back.

By Brittany Smith

Amanda Lowry, 46, from Tauranga, NZ shares her true life story:

My lips brushed against the soft cheeks of my baby, Ziggy, as I bent down to kiss her goodbye.
"Be good for Mum," I said.
My partner, Gemma, had just been discharged from hospital four days after her caesarean.
I'd promised her I'd give her time to bond with our little one while I cared for our three-year-old, Lola.
But our good friend, Miguel, was visiting from overseas and would only be in town for a couple of days.
He'd been staying with us and we lived close to the beach so I'd agreed to hit up the surf with him.
Being out on the water was the best feeling.
Miguel and I took it in turns to surf and look after Lola on the sand.
After an hour, I finished up on my last wave.
I was far away from the shore so I didn't bother to raise my arms above my head when I dived off my board.SNAP!
The crack echoed through my ears as my head struck something hard.
Blinking, I saw a sandbar beneath me, just below the surface.
Above the dark blue water, it had been invisible.
Floating face down in the water, I didn't feel any pain.
I couldn't feel anything at all.
Me, a pregnant Gemma, and our daughter Lola before the accident.
My arms were floating lifelessly in front of me.
I strained, trying desperately to move them but nothing happened.
I willed Miguel to look up.
Nothing.
Before I ran out of breath, I felt Miguel's arms come underneath my body.
As he turned me over, I saw the sky and breathed in.
I wasn't dead.
Careful not to touch my neck, Miguel cradled my head in the crook of his elbow and pulled me back to shore.
"Mumma! Mumma!" Lola shrieked as Miguel placed me on the sand.
I felt my whole world collapse around me as Lola sobbed at my feet.
I couldn't feel my little girl touching me. In that moment, I knew my life had changed forever.
An ambulance rushed me to hospital while Miguel took Lola home.
I was still in shock when doctors rolled me into the emergency department and put me to sleep.
Opening my eyes, I looked around the room.
Gemma, Lola and Ziggy were huddled around my bed as a doctor stared at me gravely.
"You broke your neck when you hit the sandbar," he explained. "I'm afraid you're paralysed from the armpits down."
Surgeons had fused my neck together and put metal bolts into my vertebrae.
Recovering in hospital after surgery, with Ziggy by my side.
My family were incredible, taking it in turns to stay by my side and keep me entertained.
During the day Gemma, Lola and Ziggy snuggled up with me.
At night my brother, Marty, squished his large six-foot five frame into the small armchair next to my bed.
Miguel even visited a few times before he had to return home.
"You saved my life," I told him tearfully when he said his goodbyes.
Having no feeling in my body was like I was teetering on the edge of a cliff, about to fall through the air.
I didn't have any sensation from the chest down but, with a lot of hard work, I could get limited movement back into my arms.
I had to relearn everything, including how to eat.
Gemma and the kids came over every night so we could still have dinner as a family.
I hated the bland meals the hospital gave me so Gemma brought comfort food, like Vietnamese and Indian, full of the spicy flavours I loved.
I read books to my daughters before they had to leave for bedtime.
With each passing day I gradually began to accept that my life had changed for good.
I'd promised Gemma I'd be there for her and now she was stuck at home, with a baby and a toddler.
After three months I was discharged.
I love being able to play wheelchair rugby.
When Gemma drove me home I thought I'd be happy, but looking at the familiar streets made my heart sink.
I used to cycle down these roads with Lola, giggling as we breathed in the fresh air.
That life was now over.
Gemma and I had spent seven years renovating our house to turn it into our dream home.
But now I didn't even fit inside it – the hallways were too narrow for my wheelchair and there were steps leading to the front door.
Curling up on my lap, Lola looked up at me with tears in her eyes.
"I wish you didn't go to the beach that day," she cried.
It broke my heart, but also made me determined that no matter how down I was feeling, I'd never let my children see me looking sad.
Each morning I woke up determined to make life a little bit better.
I'd always been obsessed with sports so I joined a wheelchair rugby team.
When I wheeled up to the team on my first day, my heart soared.
I was surrounded by people in wheelchairs who were happy and active, just like I wanted to be.
Lola joined the other kids at the sideline, who watched eagerly as their parents raced around, scoring tries from their chairs.
For the first time, I could show Lola that my chair wasn't something to be sad about.
Our little family is everything to me and Gemma.
Now we've moved into a new, wheelchair-friendly home, just a minute's drive from our old house.
Ziggy is five and, although she doesn't remember me without my chair, she knows all about my accident.
"You should've waited until I was older and I could've helped you," she teased.
I've even started swimming and have a coach who's preparing me for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
I still don't have much feeling in my limbs, though my arms are getting stronger every day.
With my family around me I have all the happiness I need.

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