Pair share painful story in effort to educate

By Rosie Manins

Dunedin resident Carolyne Smith rests her injured leg while sharing the story of her struggle, supported by her husband David Smith. Photo / Craig Baxter
Dunedin resident Carolyne Smith rests her injured leg while sharing the story of her struggle, supported by her husband David Smith. Photo / Craig Baxter

A woman seriously hurt when she was run down by a van at a pedestrian crossing and the man who was at the wheel have come together in the hope they can prevent similar accidents.

Carolyne Smith, 66, was seriously injured when she was hit by a van on a pedestrian crossing Morgan Te Whata, 67, was driving in Dunedin on September 2.

The incident, resulting in surgery and ongoing rehabilitation for Mrs Smith and a court case against Mr Te Whata, has impacted hugely on their families.

"We've got a unique opportunity to share our story and increase people's awareness, to make them think and talk in their family. Anything good that can come from our suffering is positive," Mrs Smith said.

Mr Te Whata, who pleaded guilty to a charge of careless driving causing injury, has diabetes, kidney problems and failing eyesight.

He said he did not see Mrs Smith on the pedestrian crossing, and believed his health could have affected his driving.

"I have regular diabetic, kidney and eye checkups, but have never thought to ask whether I should be driving. I realise now that it is a good idea to ask these questions about one's health," he said.

Mr Te Whata, a roofer, appeared in Dunedin District Court last week where he was disqualified from driving for six months and ordered to pay $2000 reparation.

He later told the Otago Daily Times the prospect of not being able to drive was daunting.

It was hard to give up something having done it every day for decades but being responsible for causing someone's injuries, and knowing the trauma, anxiety and financial cost of those injuries was worse.

"In the early days, not knowing whether they are going to survive is very scary and stressful. The police do not allow you to have contact with the victim of their family to say you are sorry or to ask how they are progressing," he said.

Mrs Smith spent 11 days in Dunedin Hospital, where she underwent a knee reconstruction, and almost six weeks in a rehabilitation unit.

She had a fractured skull and broken collar bone, as well as a badly damaged knee.

As a result of her skull fracture, just behind her right ear, she had a constant "screaming whistling" in that ear and had to listen to white noise to drown it out.

Her husband David said the entire family was affected by the incident; their children dropped work and family commitments and he retired early as a ship's captain.

"It caused turmoil," he said.

Mr and Mrs Smith believed there were many people either concerned about being fit to drive, or whether a relative or friend was.

It was a hard topic to broach, and they hoped their story would encourage more discussion about the risks and consequences of driving with a physical impairment.

"Hopefully this is a realistic way people can communicate their fears. If families have to resort to hiding keys and hiding cars then that's really stressful for them as well," she said.

- Otago Daily Times

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