Byron Bay man Norval Watson at the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter base in Lismore.
Byron Bay man Norval Watson at the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter base in Lismore. Cathy Adams

Quadriplegic man walks again after bike accident

NORVAL Watson was riding his mountain bike with some friends through the bush at Goonengerry when he fell off at a creek crossing.

Life for the Byron Bay man would never be the same.

The fall caused severe spinal damage and Mr Watson spent three months in Brisbane's Princess Alexandra Hospital.

The injury left him a quadriplegic and he feared he might never walk again.

However, 18 months after the accident, Mr Watson is able to get about with the aid of a walking stick.

He now calls himself a 'walking quadriplegic' because his injury still affects all his limbs.

"My balance is still coming back as my strength comes back," Mr Watson said.

"The outcome could have been a lot worse.

"If I was on my own I would have died."

Mr Watson credited the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter service for allowing him to make such a remarkable recovery.

He said his rescue meant he was able to get the best possible treatment in the shortest possible time.

After the accident, Mr Watson was unable to move his arms and legs, and could only utilise between five and 10 per cent of his lungs.

Mr Watson's friends made the emergency call and an ambulance from Mullumbimby was quickly on the scene, followed by the rescue helicopter and the Brunswick Valley Rescue Squad.

Mr Watson was then carried on a stretcher for what must have been an excruciating hour as he and his rescuers made their way from the forest to a clearing.

He was then winched up to the helicopter, with a paramedic sitting on the stretcher next to him.

"The Westpac helicopter was an important part of the rescue, because if I was driven out obviously it would have taken more time, but also it would have been a much more jolting ride," Mr Watson said.

A tribute to the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter


"It's especially important with spinal injuries that there is minimal movement and disruption."

Mr Watson was back at the helicopter base yesterday to show his appreciation and help the service launch an annual fundraiser, the 'Hell on Wheels' mountain bike ride.

Although he has never taken part in the ride, Mr Watson is hoping he recovers enough in the next year or two so he can.

He will be out on the road with the riders this year, talking at schools about the dangers of spinal injury.

Mr Watson will be also helping the service raise money where he can.

Before his accident, Mr Watson worked from home making surfboards and skim boards and selling them online.

He was also an artist and said he was 'unbelievably happy' the day he realised he could paint again.

"I didn't know if I would ever move my arm again and I remember the feeling when I first moved my elbow," he said.

"Painting became part of my rehabilitation."


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