A horrific crash in Otaki on January 17 has left Levin’s Daniel McCowan in a wheelchair. Currently in Christchurch’s Burwood spinal unit preparing to start the long road to rehabilitation, Daniel McGowan tells his story about what happened on that day and how he is keeping positive, being given a second chance at life.

On January 17 I went to work like usual. It was the first time in two weeks I didn't have my two kids, Cooper and Mylee, with me in the van, thank God.

I was heading to a job at about 9.30am on SH1 just south of Otaki when I saw a Mercedes Benz, admiring it as it was coming down Otaki Gorge Rd until I saw it was stopping at the intersection.

I watched in my mirror as the car hit me on the left side of the van, sending me out of control. My van spun and tipped over onto the left side and slipped into the oncoming traffic.

Another car then hit the top of my van roof hard, caving it in on top of me.

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I know he had no choice. It all happened too quick for him to stop in time.

My driver's seat was up in the air with me stuck there, fully conscious.

My two labradors were in my van when the crash happened. I remember them bolting out the front windscreen past me. Luckily they survived and were later located not far away by friends who had gone in search of them.

I knew it was bad the minute I couldn't feel my legs. I remember a lady from the ambulance holding my hand and telling me that everything was going to be okay.

All I could say was "I can't feel my legs, it's not going to be okay".

I was flown from the crash site by Westpac rescue chopper to Wellington Hospital along with my mum.

I had chest drains put into both sides of me before being transferred to a special bed for the flight to Christchurch on the Life Flight plane.

My partner Jodie was able to fly with me to Christchurch.

The flight seemed like it took a long time, and about halfway there my oxygen levels dropped very low and I started to feel very hot.

The plan to get me to Burwood spinal unit changed as I had to be taken to Christchurch hospital ICU immediately.

The crash site at Otaki.
The crash site at Otaki.

After a night of scans, tubes and tests we found out for certain that my spine was broken in two places (T6 and T12) and one of my vertebrae shattered in my spinal canal. There was no chance I was going to be walking out of here.

Surgery was scheduled for the next day to secure my spine and remove the splinters from the spinal canal. My spinal cord was in pretty bad shape too.

The original four-day stay at Christchurch ICU turned into 29 days, 19 of which I was sedated and on breathing machines, my partner and mum were at my bedside the entire time.

I developed pneumonia [inflammation of the lungs]. The drugs made me hallucinate and have bad dreams.

It took me four days to feel semi-myself as I started the process of weaning off the drugs.

I also couldn't speak as I had a tracheotomy into my windpipe so I had to write everything down.

I soon learnt that the spine surgery went very well. My spine had been stabilised but now my chest was the main focus - every rib on both sides had been broken, both of my lungs were collapsed, my left collar bone was broken in half, my ear was sliced in half and I had almost lost my left eye!

All this was hard to hear and absorb but I was thankful to be alive.

Daniel McGowan.
Daniel McGowan.

I wasn't breathing on my own and the nurses were continually suctioning my lungs so they didn't build up too much mucus.

However, I recovered enough to be stabilised on Valentine's Day (February 14) for transfer to Burwood to start my rehabilitation journey.

I'm currently still waiting for my left collar bone to heal before starting rehab but the doctors say in a week or two I'll be good to go.

I don't know where to begin with thanking people, but please know I and my family are forever grateful for all the support, prayers, messages and generosity given from our whole community.

If it wasn't for this support, we may have ended up losing our home.

Thankfully not, and it means our kids can still live there, being looked after by our close-knit network of friends and family keeping the kids in a 'semi-normal' routine.

To everyone who has contributed, big or small, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

It's been a long road so far but we still have a lifetime to travel the rest, and I am very much keeping positive - this is my second chance at life.

With a new outlook I'm very excited for what the future may hold now and continue on with the ones I love most.