Hard road to recovery

By Hayley McLarin

Colin's body was so shattered in a motorbike smash that he was expected to die that night. Instead, he was home for Father's Day.

Robyn and Colin Cameron at home this week. Photo / Michael Craig
Robyn and Colin Cameron at home this week. Photo / Michael Craig

As Father's Days go, Robyn Cameron cannot remember one more low-key, or more precious.

In years gone by, her husband Colin and their two sons would have cycled the rural roads around their home or had a few days at their holiday caravan.

Last weekend they were thankful to be able to just sit together on the couch - because it was a Father's Day Colin wasn't expected to have.

A horrific motorbike accident in April left him fighting for his life. It has been a long haul to being well enough to be back home last month, making this Father's Day the best yet.

"It was like Christmas has come early. We are so lucky to have him back," says Robyn in an unusually solemn tone, a stark contrast to her typical jovial manner. "We have a long way to go, but it is amazing how far we have come. It's a miracle really."

On April 26, the night after Anzac Day, her husband of 24 years was riding through Waitakere in West Auckland when his motorbike collided with a car coming out of a side road.

Colin was thrown over the vehicle, landing head-first in a ditch.

The force of the impact broke his back in three places, shattered his knees, snapped his legs into pieces, broke his collar bone, cracked ribs, fractured bones in his hands, and caused severe brain damage.

"We didn't think he would survive the night. I will never forget how he looked when we first saw him," Robyn, 51, says.

"It was frightening. He had tubes everywhere, his head and body were so swollen. All we could do was hold his hand and hope."

Within hours, Robyn and their sons Hayden, 19, and Ben, 22, were joined by a mass of family and friends at Auckland Hospital; her phone battery soon went flat from all the voicemails and texts.

Three days after the smash, Robyn sent a group email outlining the extent of his injuries. As Colin slowly came out of the induced coma and spent days in Auckland Hospital's critical care unit, Robyn's highly anticipated daily updates continued, often a warts-and-all account and largely filled with her trademark humour and unique spelling.

When the brain injury gave Colin a French and then an American accent, Robyn joked about which husband she was going to get next.

"I couldn't allow myself to get down, that wasn't going to help Colin or the kids," Robyn says.

"We needed to focus on the positives, on any little bit of progress he made."

And he did improve. He came out of the induced coma, spent weeks recuperating from surgery, and then endured months of gruelling rehabilitation. And her emails continued - to more than 200 recipients.

As Colin reads through the updates - filed by a friend into albums with messages from the avalanche of followers - he is reminded of his progress, and astounded by how little he remembers.

The day of the accident and the following 26 days in Auckland Hospital are a blur.

"I do remember being desperate to come home, ringing my buddy, asking Robyn to come and get me," the 53-year-old says.

"I just wanted to be home with my family. Lying there doing nothing just wasn't me. Even now, I want to be on the go, but I just want to be able to go out cycling, or go for a run."

The couple were so popular, medical staff had to politely ban visitors so Colin had time to heal.

Looking at the scars like a patchwork up his legs and back is testimony to how far the popular mechanic has come, and they are a reminder he has a long way to go.

"Some people may think being home means I am okay now, but really it's just the beginning. It will be months before I can get back to work and driving again. But I can't think about that yet, I just have to take it one day at a time."

Thanks so very much for the support


It hasn't been easy, it has been emotionally challenging as well as physically, and the Cameron family couldn't have coped without help from hundreds of people - the Auckland Hospital team who saved Colin's life; the ABI rehab staff; Robyn's work; their sons' employers; friends who fundraised, helped at home and collected the wreck of the bike, fixed Robyn's car when it limped to the hospital car park; those who baked treats to coax Colin's appetite and filled the freezer so the Camerons could eat after hospital visits. There's also the girlie sessions to give Robyn a break and family and friends who kept them laughing when they could be forgiven for copious tears.

"If we held a party to say thank you we could fill the Aotea Centre," Colin says, as he does laps on crutches around the coffee table, freeing up stiff joints held in place with screws.

"It is overwhelming what people have done for us. I feel like I owe them so much. I want to repay them, and I will for the rest of my life."

Days of pain, followed by weeks of agony

CRASH DAY: FRIDAY, APRIL 26

DAY 3. APRIL 29
First on the list for surgery. Both legs broken, both knees shattered, broken foot, toes and some fingers, broken ribs and collarbone.

His left side doesn't move. He opened his eyes, but they were in the back of his head - progress at least. They are taking bone from his hip to put into his back, plus putting in pins and plates. Step 1 of many.

DAY 4. APRIL 30
Trackeotimeee, or whatever it is, is in. Awaiting CT results. Back op went well. Spinal cord sock of liquid all intact. Cord could still be damaged. He has had movement on his right side - foot and hand, but not on his left. Could be from swelling from the operation. Last night he opened his eyes - awesome.

DAY 5. MAY 1
Last night he was still tired from the anaceptic (drugs, can't spell) from the tracky (throat tube). Still no movement in his legs. His condition is diffuse axonal injury.

Phone call this morning: He is poking his tongue out. His right leg is moving again - yeh!!!!!!!!

DAY 12. MAY 8
Out of surgery. Drowsy and uncomfortable. They did both knees, ankle and left foot. Surgery knocks you around, so no visitors (family only). We need the brain to rest. Just a little hurdle in his journey.

DAY 17. MAY 13
Colin had a good weekend, responding with thumbs up and nodding head. He seems to know everything around him and recognises people. Great progress. They let us untie him, except he goes to pull all his tubes out.

DAY 19. MAY 15
Sitting in the wheelchair but in so much pain. He is on antibiotics and Tramadol four times a day and metha (dene/dol/something ... forgotten sorry, brain drain) instead of morphine. So he is drowsy and sleeps a lot.

DAY 21. MAY 17
Who would have thought Colin is where he is now - such great progress. He didn't stop talking last night, full sentences.

DAY 22. MAY 18
Back on morphine, in and out of sleep.

OMG he was talking like a Frenchman! Hayden and I laughed a lot. Who knows what today will bring!

DAY 24. MAY 20
Didn't stop talking - very entertaining. He wanted me to get him changed into different clothes - trackpants, wet suit, dry suit and best of all his "hot pants". Trust me he hasn't got any!!! He wanted a latte - he doesn't even drink coffee.

DAY 25. MAY 21
Hands are untied! He is still pulling on the nose tubes. He is sick of lying around.
They are looking at moving him to Cavits [Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Centre] tomorrow! Do not tell him he is at Metcalfe Rd, he will escape if he can, we only live two streets away.

DAY 26. MAY 22
He was very uncomfortable, the stitches are out of his legs and he was in the braces and moon boot. Painkillers didn't seem to help. He is moving today to Cavits. Very excited, a huge step on his/our journey.

DAY 28. MAY 24
Cooked him lamb chops - his favourite - and he wasn't interested. I left him to sleep.

DAY 31. MAY 27
Good weekend - eating and drinking a lot more. Pain under control.

DAY 33. MAY 29
Good to meet the people looking after him. Doing well at physio. He remembers the past, but it is muddled as to how each event falls into place.

DAY 36. JUNE 1
He did well at physio and was like the old Colin. Heard he had an American accent. Remembering more short term every day.

DAY 40. JUNE 5
Colin is talking pretty much normally with some random stuff thrown in. It's good to check his visitors' book to see who visited and see if he remembers. He has lost 10kg! He is getting better, but you have to keep reminding him why he has to eat.

SIX WEEKS. JUNE 7
The catheter out yesterday. His brain is affected in four areas plus the diffuse axonal injury. Poor thing, so frustrating.

SIX WEEKS, FIVE DAYS. JUNE 12
Now he's having extra activities, he was too tired to do his speech language therapy session, so they have given me a letter, limiting visitors.They are trying to organise an outing for us to a local cafe in the weekend.

DAY 49. JUNE 14
Colin is tired and down, he really wants to go home. I know if he got to lie in our bed he would sleep. I am very excited, I have a date with my husband on Sunday. Can't wait.

SEVEN WEEKS, THREE DAYS. JUNE 7
Depressed, in his room all day. We made him go to the TV room to watch the All Blacks. Lasted 'til half time.

DAY 53. JUNE 8
Hayden and I went with Colin in the van and Ben met us at The Falls Restaurant, for our special date. Guess what - just wants to go home. He did enjoy being out and wants to do it again. I am worried about his depression, not like him.

Yahooooo, very happy. The leg braces are off! He is allowed full weight on his right leg and limited on his left. We got Georgie Pie to celebrate and Colin ate the whole thing. He can go in a car from now on. He also has a standard wheelchair so can start to propel himself around. Independence.

10 WEEKS. JULY 5
Now out of "PTA-Post Traumatic Amnesia". Can get in and out of my car so we went to Dad's for dinner and will every week. Still has an accent now and then. He now makes his own breakfasts and lunch, they went shopping at Pak'n Save for supplies. It is a miracle!

11 WEEKS, 3 DAYS. JULY 15
Colin down - wanting time with the family, going home issues, feeling he is a burden. Went to the movies yesterday, quality time, made him a lot happier.

12 WEEKS. JULY 19
They are organising a home visit for next weekend. Allowed full weight on his left leg so he can start the journey to walking again - yeh!!!!

12 WEEKS, 2 DAYS. JULY 21.
Sunday, lunch for Dad's birthday. The OT lady is giving him a task to organise a celebration. We have his motorbike at home, it is pretty smashed up, definitely won't be using that again. He is so lucky to be alive.

13 WEEKS, 3 DAYS
Colin has been very sick all weekend. Saturday night temperature hit 40.1. In bed since Friday. Miserable weekend, no home visit, he is gutted, feels he has gone back to the start. It is just another hurdle.

14 WEEKS. AUGUST 2
He's coming home on Saturday for a day visit. Yeh!
It was so exciting after three months to see Colin walking, slowly, into the house on crutches. He is looking forward to a day at home tomorrow with family and relaxing. So am I.

14 WEEKS, 3 DAYS. AUGUST 5
Just like old times. Colin was so happy, he didn't want it to end. He wasn't even tired when I took him back. I was shattered. He/we are so lucky, he should make a full recovery.

15 WEEKS
He is coming home for the night on Saturday! Very exciting, my original goal was to have him home for Christmas. Christmas is coming early. We are so lucky to have such wonderful family and friends supporting us in our journey.

15 WEEKS, 3 DAYS. AUGUST 12
Fantastic weekend. Laying in bed on Sunday morning with a cup of tea and Krispie biscuits, chatting, watching TV, listening to the rain was heaven - so nice to have my man back home. Very hard taking him to ABI last night.

16 WEEKS. AUGUST 16
Home tonight for two sleeps - yippee! We are renovating our bathroom, washhouse and toilet, so the house is a bomb site. Colin doesn't care.

17 WEEKS. AUGUST 23
Who would have thought four months ago and how serious he was that today he is coming home. Lucky he was fit and strong minded. Still a way to go on the road he is on, but he will be happier doing it at home. Thank you so much for all the love and support you have given us, really appreciated. I am excited, he's coming home!!! YIPPEE!!!!!!!!

- NZ Herald

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