A young Welshman travelling New Zealand with his girlfriend has had his life turned upside down after being paralysed in a workplace accident.

Matthew Williamson, 30, and Justine Bennett, 26, travelled separately to NZ in January last year and met soon after, forming a relationship.

Almost two years on, English-born Bennett, who works as a nurse in Auckland Hospital's Emergency Department, has found herself beside a hospital bed for a much different reason.

Last Tuesday, November 28, Williamson went to his job as a industrial abseiler unaware his life was about to change forever.


While climbing a ladder at work, Williamson hit his head on a hatch, which knocked him unconscious and caused him to fall 4m to the ground, tragically severing his spinal cord.

The fall has left the gym-junkie paralysed from the chest down. He also received a punctured lung, a sternum fracture and a small bleed to his brain.

"As a nurse I wasn't expecting something life changing to happen to someone so close to me," Bennett said.

"I felt quite heartbroken and quite fearful about Matt's future and how it would impact on our lives."

A week and a half on, Williamson, his girlfriend and his father, who has flown over from the UK, are trying to address his injuries in a positive light and use the accident as a chance to raise awareness for people with spinal-cord injuries.

"You want to be strong and you want to be positive in your outlook because there is no way those cards can be dealt again," Williamson's father Nigel Williamson said.

Matthew Williamson, 30, and Justine Bennett, 26, travelled separately to NZ in Janurary 2016 and met soon after, forming a relationship. Photo / Supplied
Matthew Williamson, 30, and Justine Bennett, 26, travelled separately to NZ in Janurary 2016 and met soon after, forming a relationship. Photo / Supplied

"There is no what ifs, there is no blaming anybody, we have to learn to move forward and look for the benefits."

Nigel Williamson said his natural reaction now is to become a campaigner for disabled people.


"Obviously I am devastated about what has happened to my son, I want to get him home and back to the family, but we are very grateful to the doctors and nurses and overwhelmed by the emotional response to it.

"I think there is a bigger issue to take on here and that is to try and drive forward better cures and raise understanding."

Bennett told the Herald her boyfriend is an avid sportsman, who is strong-minded, caring and lovable.

The couple had discussed their plans of returning to the UK and starting a family together.

"Now we have come to terms with the fact it will be a different life but we can still do all the things we wanted to do, it will just take a little bit more time and be a bit more difficult," she said.

After surgery on his spine at Middlemore Hospital, Williamson faces eight weeks of recovery at the Spinal Rehabilitation Unit.

Bennett said the goal is to get Williamson back to being as independent as possible.

"He will be wheelchair-bound but it is getting him prepared for his daily routine of washing, dressing, and preparing him for the flight back to the UK," she said.

"He has good use of his hands and arms, which is a huge bonus. He can carry on his exercise to the best of his ability and his muscular physique will help in his rehabilitation."

Williamson's friends have set up a Givealittle page to help raise funds to fly him back to the UK. The page has raised nearly $9000.

Williamson's family said they were overwhelmed with the support they had received.

"We don't want anyone to feel sorry this has happened or to be sad, we just want people to send their positive messages to Matt," Bennett said.

"We are eternally grateful for the treatment he has received here in NZ, it is second to none," Nigel Williamson added.

"We would like to take the opportunity to thank all the nursing staff who have been involved with Matthew. Most people have been so helpful and so kind which, when you are going through this sort of process, is really nice."

To donate to Matthew Williamson's recovery fund and help with his airfares home go to Let's get Matthew Home!! on Givealittle.