Normal life gone inthe blink of an eye
By ZOE SATHERLEY
IT WAS four weeks since Lismore lad Rhys Baxter landed his P-plates. He thought he was invincible.
But on a drizzling, cold, September night along a country back road at Numulgi, the unthinkable happened to the 19year-old.
Travelling too fast, his high powered car skidded on a sweeping bend, veered sideways across the road, crashed through a fence, flew over a creek and slammed into the opposite embankment.
The Toyota Supra with a beefy twin-turbo 3-litre engine flipped over, landing sideways on its passenger door.
"I lay there all night, in bare feet, shorts and a T-shirt, freezing, in excruciating pain, praying to live and concentrating on just breathing," Rhys said last week from his rehabilitation bed at the Moorong Rehabilitation Centre in Ryde.
"I knew my back was broken when I couldn't move my legs.
"I didn't even think that I might become a paraplegic."
Eight hours scrunched in the bottom of his car were to pass, before Rhys was discovered at dawn by a passing motorist who called the ambulance.
And it was another 14 hours after arriving at Lismore Base Hospital before Rhys was finally found a hospital bed in a spinal unit able to deal with his injuries ? Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital at St Leonards.
As told in Saturday's Northern Star, Rhys was the unwitting victim of an on-going crossborder dispute about where patients should go for treatment.
Although Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane was closer, doctors at the base hospital had to find a bed for him in NSW.
Rhys' ordeal started on the night of September 8.
He was itching to get out on the road for a spin in his new car.
"I tried to tell him that the car was too powerful for him," Rhys' dad Steve said, shaking his head in disbelief at what has happened to his beloved son.
But like most teenagers, Rhys didn't want to listen.
"I've got no-one to blame but myself," Rhys says philosophically.
"It's no good moping around. I can't go back now so the only way to go is forward. I need to get on with my life.
"I want to learn to live independently and have already applied for community housing in Lismore.
"I can still have a good life despite being a paraplegic, it'll just be different.
"I've always been into sport like soccer and basketball but now I'll have to learn to play wheelchair sport."
Despite the fact that steel rods and screws now hold his back together, Rhys says he is determined to go back to the job he loves.
He always wanted a career in information technology and last year left Southern Cross University to join Lismore IT company Versacom.
Boss Greg Clarke has already called to offer him his old job back.
Meanwhile, Marina and Steve Baxter have been under great strain having their son so far away from home.
Eleven hour trips to Sydney, accommodation costs, disruption to work and an inability to be present for their son every day have all taken their toll.
But they are full of admiration and praise for their son's courage and determination to make a recovery.
"He is an exceptional and extraordinary young man," Steve said.
"We are so proud of how he has come through all of this. He is a real inspiration."