A split second decision can cause a life-long injury

Queensland man Wayne Horkings was just 17-years-old when a single moment changed the course of his life.

Wayne was working full-time and enjoying the typical carefree life of an Australian teenager when a car accident in the Blue Mountains left him in a coma for four months.

A passenger in the back seat of the car, Wayne was fortunately wearing a seatbelt and survived the accident. However, two mates who were also in the backseat weren’t wearing seatbelts and died instantly. The driver and front seat passenger miraculously survived unscathed.

Wayne wasn’t so lucky. He had damaged his spinal cord to the point that he was told he would never walk again. He also sustained a brain injury from the impact of the crash.

“I had only been working full-time for eight months. My whole life was ahead of me and I was working towards becoming a manager at my job,” Wayne said.

“But a single moment changed my entire life and I ended up spending the next four years in hospital learning to do everything again, from talking to dressing myself.”

Wayne shares his story ahead of 2014 Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week (9-15 November) with the aim of inspiring people to take simple precautions that may save them from a life-long disability.

“There are more than 10,000 Australians living with a spinal cord injury and this number continues to climb, with around 400 people sustaining this injury every year here in Australia,” Wayne said.

“There is no cure for a spinal cord injury so prevention is crucial.”

Road trauma, water-related accidents, falls/crushes, and incidents involving sporting/leisure activities are the major causes of spinal cord injury and in many instances these injuries could have been prevented.

Wayne is a member of Spinal Injuries Australia, which is part of the Australian Spinal Injury Alliance, a collective of the country’s eight leading spinal cord injury-specific service providers.

Spinal Injuries Australia Chief Executive Officer Bruce Milligan said the Alliance was formed in 2011 to raise awareness about spinal cord injuries and to promote the capability of people who use wheelchairs as valued members of our community.

“The role of the Alliance is to represent, at a national level, the interests of all Australians who have sustained a spinal cord injury via five key priorities: government liaison, advocacy, injury prevention, information sharing and awareness raising,” Mr Milligan said.

“Research and incidence data has revealed the urgent need to focus on prevention. In many cases, people are simply not aware of the true risk of what they may be doing, be it at the beach or river, on off-road trails, on the farm or from falls, which results in no preventive action being taken to avoid devastating accidents.

“Staggeringly, over a third of falls resulting in spinal cord injury are from a height of less than a metre.”

Young Australians in the 15-24 age bracket are the most likely to sustain a life-changing spinal cord injury.

“Understanding the real risks in what are often every day activities for this age group and getting the message across that ‘it could happen to me’ are of paramount importance in driving home the prevention message,” said Mr Milligan.

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