Support given after suffering serious head injury has kept farmer on his land.

Gary Charteris cheated death not once, but twice, after being kicked by a horse and then a deer.

The 61-year-old central Otago farmer had a lucky escape after being kicked in the head by a deer on his property - an accident that knocked him unconscious and nearly killed him.

"I don't remember much, but I was later told I had been very close to death, my blood pressure plummeted and I barely had a pulse," he says.

The kick - which occurred in 2001 - broke his cheekbone, left him with permanent brain disability and eyesight troubles. It also led to ongoing difficulties in independently running his 70-acre farm at Makarora, an isolated settlement about 60km from Wanaka in the South Island.

Advertisement

It was not his first brush with serious injury or setback. He was born with a spinal deformity (which, at 56, forced him on to crutches) while in the early 1980s he suffered his first head knock when kicked by a horse leaving him temporarily blinded and in intensive care.

Charteris, however, is anything but a quitter and he is still farming, in large part because of help from organisations like HealthCare New Zealand who has been supporting him for 15 years.

"I have someone from HealthCare here twice a week for six hours," he says. "They organise me and help with whatever I need; I can't drive so they'll take me to appointments in town or help with farming tasks.

"I need this because I get tired real quick and can't concentrate as well as I used to; my memory is not as good as it was, I forget things and when I get tired my eyesight packs up. But I'm lucky the injuries didn't affect my intellect."

Charteris says it was months after his second accident before he realised how close to dying he had been.

"I don't remember much," he says. "We were pregnancy-testing the deer herd when one of the animals let me have it with both barrels. I fell back and hit my head on a wall and woke up in the ambulance taking me to hospital in Dunedin.

"I was unconscious for a bit and wasn't very well at all."

Charteris believes quick action by two men who were with him at the time - the vet helping with the testing and a local man who had dropped in to see him - saved his life.

"I was lucky because the local was also a paramedic; he was a volunteer with St John. I knew him and he'd come to see me about something and it was he who called the ambulance," he says. "He later said he could barely make out a pulse and told me I had been very close to death.

"It was a real wet, snowy day and they had to get an ambulance because the rescue helicopter couldn't get in."

Months of ACC-funded rehabilitation, therapy and facial reconstruction followed and it was more than six months before he was able to do much around the farm.

Separated at the time from his wife and three young children, Charteris had his parents to help out. "They came down from Taupo and stayed for a few months; for a long time I would sleep for up to 20 hours a day; I was basically sleeping, waking up to eat and then sleeping again."

He has long since stopped deer farming and these days maintains only a small stud flock of sheep.

"I wouldn't call what I do full-time work," he says. "By 1pm most days I'm buggered and go home to rest. It is frustrating because I was always very fit and out doing things, but it has happened and you've got to move on.

"It has taught me patience, compassion and respect for others – and I'm alive which is a bonus."

Charteris says he never contemplated not returning to farming. "I wanted to do this ever since as a kid I spent time with my uncle on his farm," he says. "I like being outside and having adventure, what else would I do?"

His ability as a home handyman has also helped him remain on the land. He's built a mobile scooter - converted from a ride-on lawn mower - which he uses to collect his mail and get around the paddocks and has constructed a lifting crane.

Yet there is one pastime Charteris is passionate about – restoring vintage tractors. He's completed five so far and is about to start work on another, a 1932 Case 012 model he found under trees in a paddock on a nearby farm.

"People give them to me," he says. "This will be the oldest I've worked on and I hope I can find the parts to finish the job. It will be exciting to get it going because I've never seen one of them running."