Rebuilding livesPromoting independencePreventing injuries

Peer support

Meet the Peer Support team: Peter Harre, Col Mackereth and Katie Franz

Meet the Peer Support team: Peter Harre, Col Mackereth and Katie Franz

Early support is vital if you have sustained a spinal injury. This is why we have a dedicated Peer Support team who regularly visits 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. They also facilitate a unique workshop, Discover the Power in Me, that focuses on the emotional and mental ramifications of a spinal cord injury.

You can learn more about Peer Support by watching this video.

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 members of our Peer Support Team and read their personal stories.

Meet Peter

Peter H with FamilyJust three days after turning 28, Peter was on a group motorbike ride around the Sunshine Coast hinterland when a split second changed his life.

“I’d been working double shifts – 14 hour days – for about two weeks,” Peter said.

“Finally I got a chance to have a break and have some birthday drinks, which turned into quite a big night.

“The next day my mates wanted to go for a ride, which is something that we used to do all the time. I didn’t really feel like it but there was a bit of peer pressure going on so I ended up going too.”

A combination of lack of sleep, dehydration and irritability led to Peter feeling like something didn’t feel quite right.

After travelling out to Fernvale, the group then changed direction and made their way to Beerwah when Peter said he looked in his side mirror for just a fraction too long.

“I hit a pot hole – a massive pot hole that someone could stand in – and fell off,” he said.

“At that stage I wasn’t injured but then the bike went up an embankment and came back down and landed on me, which is when I was injured.” Conscious the entire time, Peter said a good stroke of luck occurred when an off duty ambulance officer happened to be driving by and 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. After being able to get out of bed, Peter then spent a further 2.5 months in the Unit before he was discharged and returned to the house he’d been sharing with a few mates in Slacks Creek.

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. A conscious decision while he was in hospital that his disability would fit around his lifestyle and not the other way around has held Peter Harre in good stead since sustaining paraplegia in 1987.

Following his injury, Peter was also keen to begin driving again to maintain his independence and he rebuilt an SV1 Valiant from the ground up, 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 a lot of years.”

Within 18 months of his accident, Peter was water skiing again and eventually he established the Queensland Disability Water Ski Club in conjunction with Sea World and taught many people with spinal cord injuries how to ski.

Peter spent eight years developing our SEAT Injury Prevention program to the point where he was spending up to 15 weeks of the year away from home travelling to deliver the program’s vital safety messages. Today, SEAT is still a very popular  program and 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 two other coordinators.

Collectively the trio visit 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 and mindset transform from grim frustration and anger to acceptance and hope – it always stays with me.”

Peter was thrilled to be a torch bearer for the 2000 Paralympics and proudly back-wheel balanced from Creek to Ann Street in Brisbane’s CBD. In recognition of his service to the community, Peter was named 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.”

Meet Col

Col joined the Peer Support team 2004 and brings with him over 37 years of experience living with a spinal cord injury.

He sustained his C6 spinal cord injury as a result of a diving accident at age 18. Ironically, he was supposed to be playing football that day but decided to go for a swim and a few beers with some friends instead. 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 1:20col
  • transfer
  • 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 and 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 been 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.”

Since returning to work in 1980, Col has never been unemployed. He’s been a goat farmer, draftsman, bookkeeper, adventure camp coordinator, maths tutor, and statistician, managed an employment agency and 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”.

If you want to get in touch with Col, please contact him on 0431 369 220 or

Meet Katie

A typical day for mother-of-two Katie Franz reads like many other working mums: up early to organise her two young daughters to get them to school on time, some quiet reprieve in her car while she drives to work, a busy day at the office, then back to school to pick her girls up and home for dinner where all of the associated tasks that come with being a married mum await.

What sets Katie apart from many other mums is that she uses a wheelchair after sustaining paraplegia in a car accident when she was just 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 a kid, just 16 years old, when I had my injury and my philosophy in life then was basically to get out there 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 met her husband-to-be Danny just before she was discharged from the Spinal Injuries Unit, and they married three years later. Katie said she always knew she wanted to be a mum.

“As well as the usual decisions that are 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.

“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 for her to remain positive not only for her frame of mind, but to lead a good example for her girls.

“If I don’t care, they don’t care. If one of their friends asks them why is your mum in a wheelchair, they just say: ‘she hurt her back and her legs don’t work and come on now, 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 must admit 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 such a highly regarded member of the Spinal Life Australia’s Peer Support team.

“It’s the perfect job for me because it allows me to share my experience with people who are still in the recovery and grief phase of having their spinal cord injury,” Katie said.

“My outlook on life is extremely positive; I push the boundaries of disability on a daily basis and I want to inspire others to adopt that same philosophy.