Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Fatal text crash: Miracle kids

Suspected text driving crash survivors back on feet after accident that claimed mum

Matt Ruddell is happy with the progress of  Phoenix (left) and Faith. Picture / Alan Gibson
Matt Ruddell is happy with the progress of Phoenix (left) and Faith. Picture / Alan Gibson

Just over two months ago, a battered Phoenix Ruddell lay in an induced coma at Starship Hospital with injuries so serious that doctors expected a long road back to recovery.

The Tauranga 4-year-old's little sister, Faith, also suffered a broken leg and head injury in the car crash - believed to have been partly caused by text-driving - that claimed the life of their mum, Tracey O'Brien, 26.

But yesterday, Phoenix, was happily swinging on the jungle gym at Top Kids, while Faith, 3, was getting her hands messy with an art and craft set.

Watching on, at what was their third day back among their friends at the Mt Maunganui early learning centre since the accident, dad Matt Ruddell smiled at the long overdue playtime.

"I'm so stoked with them and how resilient they've been."

Phoenix, or Phee to his family, lost up to 5kg of body fat from spending much of the past two months in a cast that covered most of his body.

Having suffered a broken pelvis, two broken femurs and a fractured arm, he is now learning to walk again.

"He's been impressing the guys at physio because he's doing a lot more than we would have expected," Mr Ruddell said. "But we are thinking it will take him a lot longer to walk."

Faith, whose head injury was more serious than that of her big brother's, was still being assisted with fatigue management.

But last week, Mr Ruddell was left with no doubt both were eager to get back to being kids when what was supposed to be a 10-minute visit to the centre turned into an hour and a half-long play session.

"They just took off. Faith got straight into the face painting and Phee was jumping among the dinosaurs, so that just told me they were ready to go back."

Mr Ruddell wants to start a campaign to stop people texting while driving.

A preliminary police investigation found the use of a cellphone may have contributed to the May 3 crash, and the case is still before the coroner.

Western Bay of Plenty road policing manager Senior Sergeant Ian Campion said previously that Ms O'Brien wasn't wearing her seatbelt and might have been texting at the time of the crash.

Tracey O'Brien
Tracey O'Brien

Mr Ruddell said he was amazed at the support the family was still getting from the community.

"I'm still getting stopped in the street, to the point it's almost a novelty now."

More than $11,000 had been raised for Faith and Phoenix via the website Givealittle and Mr Ruddell planned to use some of the funds to take the children on a trip.

Top Kids had also helped arrange a signed Chiefs rugby jersey to be raffled to benefit the family.

Mr Ruddell remained convinced the children knew their mother had died soon after the crash.

"I think they knew but just didn't understand ... We've had that conversation and it was really challenging but they are in a good space and will tell me how they feel."

A memory box has been put together with newspaper clippings and sympathy cards and Mr Ruddell hopes the children will be able to go through it one day to help them understand what happened.

- Additional reporting: Bay of Plenty Times

- NZ Herald

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