A holiday to celebrate a child's birthday turned into a nightmare when a head-on crash left a 2-year-old paralysed and fighting for her life.
Wellington couple Daelyn Phillips, 23, and Mohammed Najim, 21, were travelling home from Auckland with their daughter Zahara, 4, and her sister Amirah when they were involved in a horrific accident on State Highway 1 near Waiouru on June 13.
An oncoming vehicle is believed to have crossed the centre line and smashed into the family's southbound car.
Two weeks later, 2-year-old Amirah is fighting for her life in intensive care at Starship children's hospital and isn't expected to walk again.
The toddler was one of seven people injured in the two-car collision, which left a baby travelling in the other vehicle dead.
In an exclusive interview with the Herald, Phillips and Najim said the young family's life had been turned upside down following the crash, and they are living day-by-day, praying to see improvements in their daughter's condition.
The toddler broke her spinal cord in several places, meaning she is paralysed and can only just move her right arm. She also received various broken bones.
She has been put in a halo brace and is also having difficulties breathing on her own so is on life support.
"At this point we don't really know what is going on or if we are going to lose her," Phillips, a beauty therapist, said.
"They have told us she will never move again from the chest down.
"We are just praying to God that our baby is going to stay here with us."
Phillips said Amirah had shown little improvement in the past fortnight and they are looking at a lengthy stay in ICU.
"We are just holding on to hope. We are doing all we can but we feel so helpless because it is our baby but we don't know what to do to fix her," Phillips said.
Before the accident, their daughter was a "perfect little girl".
"She was living life and learning about everything. She loved singing and was just a lovely little girl, so kind and caring," Phillips said.
"So to see her in intensive care with breathing tubes and heart rate machines is just heartbreaking."
Najim, who said his little girl "had a whole big life ahead of her", is currently wheelchair-bound after breaking his femur and dislocating his right hip. He spent just over a week in Waikato Hospital before joining his family at Starship.
Phillips broke some ribs, suffered internal bleeding in her stomach, and injured her leg, while Zahara escaped with minor injuries.
The young family have all been left traumatised.
"Zahara doesn't really talk anymore, is scared to go in a car and is frightened of everything. Beforehand she was a bubbly, beautiful little girl," Phillips said.
"It's not going away. We are having nightmares and every day we wake up and there is this heavy weight on our hearts."
Everything was different 18 days earlier. The family had enjoyed a happy holiday in Auckland, visiting the Auckland Zoo, Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium and Rainbow's End to celebrate Zahara's birthday.
On their way back to Wellington they spent a night in Taupo and were just over an hour into their second leg of the journey when they were struck by an oncoming vehicle.
"We were coming up to a corner and there was a big truck coming around the bend," Najim, a mechanic, said.
"We saw a car coming around the corner as well, on the wrong side of the road, coming straight for us.
"It just happened so fast. His car was right there. My last blink was seeing a car in front of us at that speed – I just felt so helpless and useless. We just had to take it."
Phillips was driving, with the two girls buckled into car seats in the back.
"All we had time to say was, 'Oh my God' and then boom. It felt like our life was going to end," she said.
"All I remember is the boom, and then things went blank because the airbags went off. I woke up screaming and remember seeing the shattered glass and everything bent in on us.
"I looked to my side and Mohammad was hanging over the middle and I thought he was dead. Amirah wasn't making a noise, but Zahara was screaming."
While Phillips got the children to safety, Najim had to be cut free by rescuers.
"I woke up and went to move, and all my bones fell out of place and I landed in an awkward position," Najim said.
"I just tried to stay calm as I didn't want to make things worse than they were.
"I prayed to God and said all my prayers that my kids were alive and that we would make it out of this without too much hassle.
"But then when we got to Waikato Hospital they told us our daughter was paralysed."
Phillips said as a parent all you wanted was to keep your children safe.
"We made the decision to stop halfway and rest, I purchased brand new car seats for this road trip and made sure the car was serviced.
"We did so much, we did everything right, yet it still happened."
Police confirmed the crash is under investigation and no charges have been laid "at this stage".
A Givealittle page has been set up for Amirah by her daycare centre to support her family.
The road toll as of June 27 stood at 192 - one fewer than at the same time in 2018.