OE adventure ends in hospital as tetraplegic

By Hannah Norton

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Alicia Kissick was like most young Kiwis heading off on their overseas experience - full of dreams, aspirations and excitement.

What the 24-year-old Whangarei woman never dreamed of was returning home from Canada only months later as a tetraplegic, unable to walk.

Now she wants to spread the message on the importance of good comprehensive insurance when travelling, and for people to be aware that New Zealand accident compensation may not cover an accident overseas.

Her life-changing moment occurred at a friend's 30th birthday party last December in Vancouver, Canada, after a month backpacking around the United States.

An hour into the party, Miss Kissick stepped on to a landing over a fire escape and on to a wooden board, and fell through the board.

Speaking from her hospital bed at the Otara Spinal Unit, she told the Northern Advocate of the terrifying moments when she realised she was seriously injured.

"It just felt like I had been winded. I thought I just needed a few moments to take a breather and then get back up. Then I realised I couldn't move my legs."

Miss Kissick was taken to a hospital in Vancouver, where it was determined that she'd fractured two vertebrae in her spine.

"I never really felt scared - just that life had taken a huge turn."

She'd taken out full travel insurance before the trip, particularly because she planned to go snowboarding and had heard many horror stories.

The treatment cost has run into the thousands.

"Thank goodness I had it (insurance). The numbers we are getting back on the bills [being covered] are phenomenal. It would take more than a lifetime to repay."

The cover included two months' stay at Vancouver Hospital and all medical treatments over there.

"There I was sitting in a hospital for two months, looking at the very mountains I had wanted to climb."

Miss Kissick's travel insurance also allowed for return flights to Canada for her parents to visit her, as well as her flight home - a massive undertaking requiring a stretcher strapped over nine reclined plane seats, accompanied by a doctor and a nurse.

Arriving in New Zealand did not spell the end of the journey for the Kissick family.

It's not just Miss Kissick's rehabilitation, she's well aware of the struggle ahead of her.

"I'm slowly making progress, coming to grips with my new body," she said.

Miss Kissick and her family may never receive help from the ACC scheme, because the injury occurred overseas.

Miss Kissick's mother, Glenis, a nurse at Kensington Hospital, said this was in part because Alicia had spent a year-long working holiday in Melbourne prior to her OE, despite returning home to Whangarei for four days in between. Their case was declined, so the family appealed. It is currently under review, with a decision set to be made in June.

Through all this, Mrs Kissick said Alicia has managed to hold her head high. "Alicia has been absolutely amazing. She's just such a strong and determined girl."

- Northern Advocate

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