When Matthew Purchase's parents arrived at Waikato Hospital to find their son lying sedated in intensive care, barely recognisable through the massive damage to his head inflicted by a rifle bullet, they considered not consenting to life-saving surgery.

Ian and Helen Purchase were in shock; their once healthy, active, outdoors-loving son was on life support and his future looked grim.

"It seems hard to believe now but we even asked, should we actually be giving consent?," Ian told the Herald.

"Because we knew the sort of person he was before. We didn't want to condemn him to a life of nothing."

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Matthew had been shot in the back of the head at point blank range with a .22 rifle while rabbit hunting near Putaruru in South Waikato, on the night of December 8, 2007.

The then clinical director of neurosurgery, Dr Venkataraman Balakrishnan, knew there was hope of saving Matthew because the bullet did not hit the brain stem.

Matthew Purchase with parents Helen and Ian return to Waikato Hospital where the Briton's life was saved after he was shot in the head in 2007. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Matthew Purchase with parents Helen and Ian return to Waikato Hospital where the Briton's life was saved after he was shot in the head in 2007. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"He said to us 'He's a fighter. You need to give him a chance'. He said 'I can't give you all Matthew back but I can give you some of Matthew back'," Ian recalls.

When the couple were told their 21-year-old son would die within days without the surgery to remove the bullet and bone fragments, they consented.

"It was very emotional at the time. We just sort of knew we had to. I don't think any parent can sign a death warrant for their child."

On Thursday Matthew, now 33, and his parents returned to Waikato Hospital for an, at times, emotional reunion with some of the staff involved in his miraculous recovery.

The British man was participating in a six-month agricultural exchange, with the dream of taking over his parents' farm in Dorset, when the accident happened.

He spent more than two months in hospital, and another 21 months in rehabilitation in the UK before finally returning home on Christmas Eve, 2009.

His left arm and leg are partially paralysed and his eyesight was badly affected but Matthew doesn't let his disabilities determine his lifestyle.

CT scan of Matthew Purchase's head soon after he was shot at point blank range with a rifle in 2007. Photo / Supplied
CT scan of Matthew Purchase's head soon after he was shot at point blank range with a rifle in 2007. Photo / Supplied

"I live in my own house. A nice three-bedroom farm cottage."

With help from a support worker Matthew can live independently, and though he can't work he gives presentations on the affects of a brain injury.

He's also back into sport; rowing, claybird shooting - he's not afraid of guns - and cycling.

He and his parents cycled across Belgium and Holland in September 2017 for charity - Matthew in a tandem bike with his dad - and Matthew was awarded a Ture Grit trophy for his perseverance.

Matthew Purchase soon after he was shot and then operated on at Waikato Hospital. Photo / Supplied
Matthew Purchase soon after he was shot and then operated on at Waikato Hospital. Photo / Supplied

Ian said while Matthew had no memory of the accident and none for about a year afterward, he and his wife were so traumatised at the time, they left New Zealand with unhappy memories.

But a two-week holiday in which they met with Balakrishnan, now retired, and the return to intensive care and Ward 8 at Waikato Hospital has helped to bring closure to the event.

"It was a pretty special moment because I never expected to get back to New Zealand let alone to see him again," Matthew said of reuniting with Balakrishnan.

"As soon as he saw Matthew he just walked up and put his arms around him and gave him a hug," Ian said.

Retired neurosurgeon Dr Venkataraman Balakrishnan with shooting victim Matthew Purchase during an emotional reunion in Wellington. Photo / Supplied
Retired neurosurgeon Dr Venkataraman Balakrishnan with shooting victim Matthew Purchase during an emotional reunion in Wellington. Photo / Supplied

Balakrishnan operated on Matthew for three hours, four days after the shooting.

The hollow-nose expanding bullet had entered Matthew's head just above his right ear, splintering as it drove through his skull and the right side of his brain, sending bone fragments and bits of bullet into precious brain tissue and finally lodging in the bone above Matthew's right eye socket.

Balakrishnan removed broken skull bone and reassembled them, as well as removing all but one bullet fragment, which had been lodged too deep in brain tissue.

"It was a horrible, horrible injury," Ian said.

Bjarne Jensen, the father of a Danish student on the same exchange as Matthew, was found not guilty of careless use of a firearm at a trial in Rotorua in 2008.

Ian, who flew to the trial with his eldest son Simon, called the outcome disgusting and said it was "galling" that Jensen had never apologised to Matthew or even contacted the family.

Jensen had been behind Matthew who was sitting on the back of a flat deck ute when he was shot about 11pm that Saturday night.

Ian said the consequences of the hunting accident had been devastating.

"Although Matthew has made a remarkable recovery in many ways, his life will never return to what it was, nor will he ever be able to work again.

"With a good degree from a mainstream UK university he once had a promising future in the farming industry.

"He does remain remarkably positive, but it is hard not to shed a tear when he said to me once, 'Dad, how will anyone want to marry me now I'm like this?'.

"His return to New Zealand is an important milestone on his long road to recovery but it will always be tempered by the consequences of that tragic hunting accident in a country he loved so much before that."

Matthew Purchase, middle, with Waikato Hospital staff from left Alaina Campbell, Jenny Dorrian, Dr Annette Forrest, parents Ian and Helen, and Dr Grant Christey. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Matthew Purchase, middle, with Waikato Hospital staff from left Alaina Campbell, Jenny Dorrian, Dr Annette Forrest, parents Ian and Helen, and Dr Grant Christey. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Yesterday there were hugs and tears at Waikato Hospital as Matthew met many of the staff he never knew cared for him.

Director of trauma, surgeon Grant Christey, said it was great to see the Purchase family again, minus Simon and Matthew's younger sister Rachel.

"With patients like Matthew it's often very grim at the beginning," Christey said.

"And it's fantastic to see him coming back and piecing his life back together. It validates a lot of the work that the staff do as well."

In all that's happened, Matthew has never suffered depression, and his sense of humour remains in tact.

When meeting with intensive care specialist Annette Forrest, Matthew made a joke at her memories of him, including that he was rushed to hospital by the Westpac Waikato Air Ambulance from a farm.

"He was smelling of cows," Ian said.

"All of those bits stick in my mind," Forrest said, to which the quit-witted Matthew replied: "That I stank".