Peter Harre calls it the “lightbulb moment” and says it’s the best part of his job.
It’s the moment where someone with a newly acquired spinal cord injury realises their injury may present a lifetime of challenges, but it’s still a life worth living.
Mr Harre is a member and founder of Spinal Life Australia’s Peer Support Team, a team of people with lived experience in spinal cord injury who dedicate their time to helping patients at Princess Alexandra Hospital’s Spinal Injuries Unit come to terms with life after injury.
“When people sustain paraplegia or quadriplegia through an injury, it’s all too common for them to focus on what they can’t do,” he said.
“The Peer Support team work with patients and their families to change their mindset and open their eyes up to what is still possible.
“We’re constantly seeing people go from feeling like their life is over to eventually seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and realising despite a new set of challenges, life still goes on.”
Mr Harre said that realisation was something he had to find out for himself after sustaining paraplegia in a motorbike accident in 1987.
In 2004, he was asked by Spinal Life Australia to help establish the Peer Support Team and the team has since helped an estimated 1,200 people with a newly acquired injury, both in the Unit and in the community.
During Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week (3 to 9 September), a national initiative that challenges perceptions of what it means to have a spinal cord injury, Mr Harre said a change in attitude can go a long way in how people with a physical disability are perceived.
“I think a lot of people assume that if you’re in a wheelchair, you can’t be independent or that your life must be miserable,” he said.
“While we might need a bit of support at times, we still live our own lives just like anyone else.”
For more information on Spinal Life’s Peer Support team, visit www.spinal.com.au/peer-support.
Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Week is an initiative of the Australian Spinal Injury Alliance, which represents Australia’s eight largest spinal cord injury support organisations.