Early support is vital if you have sustained a spinal cord injury. This is why we have a dedicated Peer Support team who regularly visit the Spinal Injuries Unit at Brisbane’s Princess Alexandra Hospital.
Each member of the team has a spinal cord injury and lived experience to share. They provide practical one-on-one support to people who have sustained spinal cord injuries, as well as their family members.
Watch this video to learn more about Peer Support
Our Peer Support team has a very active private Facebook group where participants discuss a wide range of issues such as travel, health, sex, leisure pursuits and equipment. This is a fantastic forum to talk to other people with spinal cord injuries in a confidential environment.
If you’re game to ask, they’re game to answer.
Meet the team
Meet the members of our Peer Support Team and read their personal stories.
“I’d been working double shifts – 14 hour days – for about two weeks,” Peter said.
“Finally I got a chance to have a break which turned into quite a big night.
“The next day my mates wanted to go for a ride, which is something we did all the time. I didn’t really feel like it but my mates insisted so I ended up going.”
A combination of lack of sleep, dehydration and irritability led to Peter feeling like something wasn’t quite right.
The group was on their way to Beerwah when Peter looked in his side mirror for a fraction too long.
“I hit a pot hole – a massive pot hole that someone could stand in – and fell off,” he said.
“I wasn’t injured, but the bike went up an embankment and came back down and landed on me.” Peter was still conscious, and an off duty ambulance officer driving by stabilised him until an ambulance arrived.
Peter was eventually taken to the Spinal Injuries Unit at the Princess Alexandra Hospital where he was told he had sustained paraplegia. He spent the first 12 weeks in bed rehabilitating. When he was able to get out of bed, Peter spent a further 2.5 months in the Unit before he was discharged. He returned to the house he’d been sharing with a few mates in Slacks Creek.
Adapting to life with a spinal cord injury
Peter credits his network of friends and family and their unwavering support with contributing to him adapting to life with a spinal cord injury.
“When I was in the Unit I began to set goals for myself for when I left,” Peter said. He made a conscious decision that his disability would fit around his lifestyle and not the other way around. This decision has held Peter Harre in good stead since he sustained paraplegia in 1987.
After his injury, Peter was keen to begin driving again so he could maintain his independence. Because of this he rebuilt an SV1 Valiant, complete with hand controls, so that he could get back to driving.
“One of my other goals was to water ski again, which was something I’d be doing most weekends for many years.”
Within 18 months of his accident, Peter was water skiing again. He eventually established the Queensland Disability Water Ski Club in conjunction with Sea World and taught many people with spinal cord injuries how to ski.
Supporting others with a Spinal Cord Injury
Peter spent eight years developing our SEAT Injury Prevention program. He was spending up to 15 weeks of the year away from home travelling to deliver the program’s vital safety messages. Today, SEAT has inspired more than 1.5 million Queensland school children to stay safe and injury free.
After a series of other challenging roles, Peter heard we were developing a Peer Support program. Ready for a new challenge, Peter was the founding team member of the program, which today has grown to include other coordinators.
Collectively the team visits the Spinal Injuries Unit most weekdays to speak with newly-injured patients and their family members.
“The best part of my job is that single moment, when I see someone’s outlook on life transform from grim frustration and anger to acceptance and hope. It always stays with me.”
Peter was a torch bearer for the 2000 Paralympics where he proudly back-wheel balanced from Creek to Ann Street in Brisbane’s CBD. In recognition of his service to the community, Peter was a finalist in the Queensland Pride of Australia Medal in 2008.
“Having a spinal cord injury doesn’t mean you can’t have a partner or a family, and it doesn’t mean you can’t work, play sport or contribute to your community.
“You just have to push the boundaries and find new ways of doing things.
“I like to think of myself as the average guy next door – I’m a father, a husband, a work colleague, and much more.”
He sustained his C6 spinal cord injury as a result of a diving accident at age 18. Ironically, he decided to go for a swim and a few beers with some friends instead of playing football that day. He says “I believe in fate, my role in life was not to play State of Origin for Queensland but to achieve much greater things.”
After 11 months in the Spinal Unit, Col returned home to his parents’ place in Charters Towers and he was unable to
- push his wheelchair up a gradient more than 1:20
- look after his own personal care
- dress himself
- feed himself
- prepare meals or do housework of any kind.
Col’s goal was to leave home and live independently. “None of my mates still live with their mums, so why should I be any different,” he told his mum.
A little over a year later, after a lot of hard work, heartbreak and sacrifice he found himself living in Brisbane.
“I was sharing a flat with a bloke that I met in hospital, doing all my own cooking, cleaning, personal care and housework, driving myself to work every day in my own car and getting my wheelchair in and out. I was also training with Sporting Wheelies when I wasn’t busy socialising with friends.”
Col likes to tell stories, preferably about himself. “People say I should be 400 years old to have done all the things that I have done so far in my life,” he jokes.
“I’m writing an autobiography called Fifty Hats that tells stories about all the different hats I’ve worn over the years.”
Col has experienced, and survived, many of the major life events that most people go through in their life’s journey. To get all the details of his colourful life you will have to read his book or you could just ask him.
“I haven’t always learnt my lessons though. Since my injury, I’ve married (twice), divorced (twice), been arrested (twice), become a father (twice), built a home (twice) and owned more cars than I care to remember. I’ve lived in the city and the bush and more recently tried doing the grey nomad lifestyle in a caravan.”
Col has not been unemployed since he returned to work in 1980. He’s been a goat farmer, draftsman, bookkeeper, adventure camp coordinator, maths tutor, statistician, and a manager at an employment agency. He’s even worked in a hardware store.
“While I know I have achieved a lot in life already I believe that the best is yet to come. My life is all about what I am going to do not what I have done and I have great expectations for the future”.
A typical day for mother-of-three Katie reads like many other working mums. Up early to get her two young daughters to to school on time, she enjoys a quiet reprieve in her car while she drives to work. After a busy day at the office, it’s back to school to pick her girls up and home for dinner and all the other tasks that await.
What sets Katie apart from many other mums is that she uses a wheelchair after sustaining paraplegia in a car accident at 16.
Now aged 31, Katie said when it sunk in that she had a permanent injury all those years ago, she made a conscious decision to continue making the most of every opportunity.
“I have always had an optimistic mindset. I was injured at 16 and my philosophy in life was to go and have fun,” Katie said.
“If you say ‘no’ to something, you will miss out. I like to take opportunities and make the best of them. My parents would always say to me to give it a go.”
Katie, who’s husband Jimmy also has a spinal cord injury, said she always knew she wanted to be a mum.
“As well as the usual decisions typical for any couple contemplating having a baby, we also had the added questions of what my injury would mean during my pregnancy, the birth itself and of course the everyday issues of raising children,” Katie said.
“But like anything, I saw our situation as a challenge that was more than worth the hard times.”
Chelsea was born in 2001, followed by Tiana in 2004 and Georgia in 2016.
“Sometimes they say it sucks because they want me to help them climb a tree or go to the beach. But we have lots of aunties and uncles around to shove them up that tree or take them to the beach.
“My girls don’t know any different. That’s the up-side of it. They have only ever seen me use a wheelchair so to them it’s the complete norm.”
Katie also said it was important to remain positive, not only for her frame of mind, but to set an example for her girls.
“If I don’t care, they don’t care. If one of their friends asks them why their mum in a wheelchair, they just say: ‘she hurt her back and her legs don’t work. Come on, I’m going to the tuckshop because I’ve got $2 to spend!’” Katie said.
“It’s really not an issue for them, which makes it a non-issue for their friends.”
A qualified personal trainer, Katie enjoys regularly going swimming with her daughters.
“ I often see people doing a double take when they see me slide from my wheelchair into the pool. But they’re always positive, giving me the thumbs up and saying ‘good on you’, Katie said.
“It’s always a good feeling to challenge people’s perceptions of what people with a disability can do.
“Being a mum is a right any women should have, regardless of whether or not they use a wheelchair.”
It’s this positive attitude that has made Katie a highly regarded member of the Spinal Life Australia’s Peer Support team.
“It’s the perfect job because I can share my experience with people still in the recovery and grief phase of a spinal cord injury,” Katie said.
“My outlook on life is extremely positive. I push the boundaries of disability daily and I want to inspire others to adopt that same philosophy.
Her personal ethos is respect is earned not given. And for someone who is constantly pushing her boundaries she doesn’t struggle to earn respect.
In 2009 as she was driving into Roma a kangaroo jumped in front of her car. Jocelyn’s life changed and the boundaries became larger.
“I was driving before dusk to avoid the kangaroos because I’ve always believed in proper planning. But sometimes you can only plan so much — fate takes over,” Jocelyn said.
“I sustained high level quadriplegia and spent more than 12 months in the Spinal Injuries Unit undergoing complex rehabilitation.
“My accident left me with new boundaries and ones I never imagined I would experience.”
Discover the Power in Me
It was during this time that Jocelyn met Spinal Life Australia’s Peer Support Team.
“Peer Support was offering a training course called ‘Discover the Power in Me’. I decided I had to give it a go,” Jocelyn said.
“People were generally only offered a place in the course post-discharge. I was still a patient in the Spinal Injuries Unit so I had to push to be allowed to participate.
“During my rehabilitation the course helped me to focus on my new life and living my new potential.
“I have always believed in constantly improving on all levels. I am always challenging myself physically and mentally.
“Before my accident I always liked to go outside my comfort zone. The groove can become too comfortable.
“Because I have always been involved in sports and education, I was acutely aware of the benefits of physical exercise.
“After my accident I planned to improve and maintain my core strength so I could be as independent as possible.
“I work out at the Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association Gym and my core strength has improved beyond my wildest imagination.
“Having a disability means I now challenge myself on levels I never thought were possible.”
Within six months of discharge from the Spinal Injuries Unit Jocelyn was back coaching at the Whites Hill Swim Club.
You can find Jocelyn there most Mondays to Fridays from 4:30 am except for a short break over winter. She has taken swimmers to state, national and international levels.
Until Jocelyn joined the club 20 years ago they had never had a permanent coach. Such is her dedication that the voice at the side of the pool is stronger and more encouraging than ever.
And her voice is unlikely to diminish any time soon. In fact, it’s just growing stronger.
“It doesn’t matter how tall or short you are, it’s your determination that defines you.”