When 24 hours is a lifetime – and your life

February 05, 2018

TEENAGER Kyle Kiely was riding along, wind blowing through his hair, having a great time with his motor-biking mates on a bush track when, in a split second his world changed. Forever. DAVID RAK caught up with a man trapped in a wheelchair and facing a sometimes frightening future as he comes to grips with all he has lost.

KYLE Kiely has the image of death coming straight at him seared in his memory for the rest of his life.

The 19-year-old motorcyclist was on a bush track with mates when the 4WD came straight at him.

And with thick forest both sides of the narrow road he had nowhere to go.

Except straight into the ute.

His last memory of the crash was being dazzled by the oncoming headlights and then everything went blank.

On July 23, 2017, this strapping young man was like any other 19-year-old – he had his whole life before him and he was living every minute of it.

Twenty four hours later he was being brought back from the edge by emergency services and doctors.

They saved his life but could not repair all the damage.

Kyle was a paraplegic.

The mates he was riding with that day saw him hit, saw him flung into the air and had to brake and swerve to avoid running over his shattered body as it landed, like a rag doll, on the road in front of them.

“My mum had called just before the accident to ask what I wanted for dinner. My mates then had to tell her I’d been hit by a car,” Kyle said.

“I remember her coming to see me while I was lying on the road. I couldn’t move my fingers and my leg was in a really bad way.”

Before passing out Kyle remembers defiantly assuring his mother that this wouldn’t be the last time he saw her.

The collateral damage from the crash was almost immediate.

His mates were traumatised and his mother Bronwyn said she will never forget the phone call, like her son it has been indelibly scrawled across her memory as the worst day of her life.

She said she beat the ambulance to the crash scene and by the time she got there was almost hysterical.

“I had to calm myself down so I didn’t stress him out any more than he already was,” she said.

“The image of him lying broken on the ground is something that will live with me forever.

“His legs were really bad; his hands weren’t much better and he had two collapsed lungs”

Kyle was flown to The Alfred hospital where he spent four weeks in a coma.

He then spent a further four months recovering at the Austin Hospital and Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre; finally getting home just in time for Christmas.

The road back started with 30 hours of surgery, which included doctors debating whether to amputate one leg.

The hundreds of hours of rehab that followed are, for the large part, a blur as Kyle began the seemingly insurmountable challenge of life without the use of his legs.

His memory of recovery isn’t as clear as the moment of the accident and he has taken some time to fully piece together the horror of what had happened.

“There was no moment I can remember where I woke up and realised I would never walk again,” Kyle said.

“It’s all a bit of a blur but I remember a feeling of resilience building inside me. There was plenty of opportunity to be depressed about it all but I cast that aside.”

Kyle would be forgiven for having a woe-is-me attitude, but just six-months on he’s resumed a relatively normal life.

Despite the inability to walk and a left arm permanently bent at 90 degrees, Kyle said he feels fortunate to still be breathing.

“There are always bad thoughts that creep in but they don’t help anyone, so I push them away,” he said.

“This has happened to me for a reason and I’m thankful I’m still here. I could have easily died on that road.”

But despite his remarkable attitude, Kyle said life is inescapably harder when confined to a wheelchair.

Everyday things are that much harder and take a lot longer. Things you never consciously gave a second thought. Even something as mundane as getting a cold drink from the fridge requires considerable effort.

Kyle hopes to have an operation on his arm to return movement and allow him to transition into a manual wheelchair.

“It’s so much easier in a manual wheelchair,” he said

“Once I’m in that I’ll be able to get myself into the car or on the couch. Now it’s a choice of bed or the chair.”

Aside from the obvious physical challenges, Kyle said there are so many other issues people never consider when thinking about paraplegics.

The endless medications to keep everything functioning as it should and the regime of changing catheters every four to six hours came with a significant adjustment period.

“Because I can’t feel anything in my legs, something could be pushing on my skin and cause pressure sores very easily,” Kyle said.

“They can become very deep and mean big stays in hospital.

“And just simple things like changing a pair of shorts becomes a big deal.”

Kyle said he was hoping a Slater and Gordon research grant will help people in his situation understand serious secondary health risks – from the pressure sores and nerve pain to the ever-present risk of diabetes.

The grant is part of the law firm’s annual health projects and research fund, a philanthropic grants initiative which focuses on improving care and treatment for people with significant disability.

“I’m hoping the research might help the development of better language to describe secondary health problems,” he said.

“Doctors use a lot of technical language that goes straight over my head. It would be beneficial for people like me for things to be explained simply.”

Although simple is a word that still sticks in Kyle’s throat.

While he said he doesn’t hold any grudges towards the driver of the car that hit him, one very simple thing would help his emotional road to recovery.

Because apart from an RACV claim for the damage to his ute; Kyle said the driver hasn’t made any attempt to contact him, or check on his progress.

“For someone to have done so much damage and only be worried about their ute is pretty disappointing.”

It’s not even about getting a sorry, or an apology, it’s just the icy indifference to his wellbeing has become one of the issues he can never resolve because it is beyond his control.

And when so much of your life is now out of your control even a small thing, such as a phone call or quick visit, would mean so much – and make such a difference.

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