The recovery and rise of Billy the wonder kid

May 08, 2017

Billy Ilsley on the family dairy farm at Gunbower. Photo: Luke Hemer

Billy Ilsley has returned home. Photo: Luke Hemer.

The partially completed tattoo on Billy Ilsley’s arm which records, for the rest of his life, the moment his life changed forever.

Billy photographed in the Alfred’s emergency department after being flown to Melbourne in January. Photo: submitted

WILLIAM ‘Billy’ Ilsley lives with a constant, and self-inflicted, reminder of his horror motorcycle crash.

A tattoo on his forearm; of a clock with the date and time: January 7, 7.30pm.

“It’s the day my life changed,” he said.

The day he became a paraplegic.

It’s a painful memory, but Billy looks at it with steely determination.

“It means I can overcome anything,” he said.

Although he has a long way to go, the Gunbower teenager has already defied the odds.

“The doctors told me I should be dead. It was a miracle I survived it,” he said.

His progress was so impressive Billy returned home on April 12 — barely three months after the freak accident that has left him wheelchair bound for the rest of his life.

Doctors had assured him he could be in the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre for at least six months.

“I told them I’d be out in three and I was out after two months and 24 days,” he said.

It is that strength and resolve that has seen Billy not only overcome any challenge thrown his way, but come to terms with what happened.

“I’ve just come to accept that this is part of me now,” he said.

“I still have days where I won’t co-operate and when I want to be alone and not talk to anyone, but my friends always find a way to get through to me.”

His friends have been there for him since that fateful night four months ago.

Living in Bendigo at the time, where he was working as a fencer, Billy had gone to his parents’ dairy farm in Gunbower for the weekend to help out while they were away.

On the night of January 7 he went for a ride on his dirt bike — his friends in the car behind him.

Police said he had been wearing the correct motorcycle gear, hadn’t been drinking or speeding — they estimated he was doing less than 60km/h at the time he crashed.

“I can remember every second of the accident,” Billy said. “I was down Torrumbarry Weir Rd and I came round a corner and hit a pothole and I closed my eyes, rolled about 13m and when I opened my eyes I was looking at a tree. I didn’t black out or anything.

“I took off my helmet, looked down and sort of moved my legs and then the pain just set in in my back and I just felt everything. But I couldn’t feel my legs instantly after the accident.

“I had a massive lump out of my back and it felt like a fire had been lit underneath me.”

Some campers ran over and called an ambulance and sat with him until it arrived. Billy’s friends were right behind.

“I was in a state of shock and I was more worried about my friends and how they were,” Billy said.

"There was a nine-year-old girl and she was the only one who saw my accident. She came over with a puppy and I was talking about the dog a lot, trying to keep myself distracted and calm more than anything.”

Billy was flown to the Alfred Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery on his spine.

The four-hour operation involved fusing metal rods to his C6 vertebrae down to his T7 – along with 13 screws.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to see him walk again.

And it was his mum Nadine who had to deliver the devastating news.

“The only thing the doctors said was ‘everything went fine from a surgical point of view’,” Billy said.

“Mum was the one who told me I wasn’t walking out of there.

“I broke down and cried. There was no other way to take it.”

Billy still dreams about the accident, but the dream has a happier ending.

“When I was in hospital I would dream that I walked away from the accident. It was weird ’cause I’d wake up and try to move my legs and it just wouldn’t happen,” he said.

“It never got me upset or anything but it was a weird feeling to wake up and have had such a vivid dream about moving and still being bedridden when I woke up.”

Billy spent 12 days at the Alfred and 24 hours in the Austin Hospital before being moved to the Royal Talbot where he endured almost 12 weeks of gruelling rehabilitation.

“I had to learn how to sit in a manual chair, get in and out of a wheelchair, get in and out of bed, if I fell out of the wheelchair how to get back in it, dismantle the wheelchair and put it in the car, get in and out of a car. Basically learning to do everything a normal person would do,” he said.

“It was extremely difficult. Learning to sit up by myself was probably the hardest part.”

Adapting to life in a wheelchair is still a work in progress.

“It’s getting easier the more I do or try,” he said.

“It’s definitely made things difficult, but not impossible.”

Billy said the accident hadn’t changed him as a person, but rather changed the way he did things.

“If anything, it’s made me more determined to prove people wrong,” he said.

And he is doing exactly that.

He has already been on the four-wheeler, wants to get his motorbike fixed and converted to hand controls and plans to go skydiving in the next few months.

“Hopefully I can start driving by next month,” he said.

And moving out of home and getting a job are also on the cards.

“I miss work, full stop. It drives me insane sitting inside all day. Netflix only has so much to watch,” he said.

“Hopefully I’ll have a job by the end of this year. 

“I’ve always been hands on, which is a bit difficult now. I can’t quite see myself sitting behind a desk though, but I might have to for a while.”

In the meantime, he is living with parents Nadine and Marcus who have renovated their house to make it wheelchair accessible.

And although the accident will affect the Ilsley family for the rest of their lives, Nadine said she was just grateful her son was alive.

“I’m so proud of him. His determination is incredible,” she said.

Nadine said the family had been overwhelmed by the overflow of community support for her son, with about $40,000 raised through various fundraisers.

The money will be used to help Billy’s needs over the years.

“We are humbled by what the community has done. It’s beyond what we could ever imagine,” Nadine said.

Billy said he certainly never expected that level of support.

“It’s been amazing,” he said.

“It’s good to know everyone is looking out for you.”

And while that community and family support would be enough to keep him going — it is something his grandfather told him that helps him get out of bed every morning.

“When I was a kid, my pop always told me when he woke up and saw the sun, it was a good day. I never understood what that meant until I was in hospital,” he said.

“So when I wake up every morning, I say it’s going to be a good day because I’m still here.”

But watch this space because being ‘here’ is just a short stop in the rise and rise of Billy Ilsley, paraplegic with potential.

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