Ten Foot Tall and Bulletproof

Ten Foot Tall and Bulletproof

Ten Foot Tall and Bulletproof

Kendall Akhurst used to feel “ten foot tall and bulletproof” until his neck was broken by a mammoth rugby tackle. In 2000 a Hutt Valley rugby game turned into a disaster when he was bulldozed to the ground by a handful of guys. Kendall lay on the field in agony, paralysed from the shoulders down. He was hypothermic and struggling to breathe.

“I was a weightlifter and had represented NZ so I was pretty fit,” he says. “But I was freaking out having never been seriously injured.”

Kendall needed intensive care fast but his vertebrae were hanging by a thread so a road transfer could have cost him his life. A Life Flight team was dispatched immediately in the Westpac Rescue Helicopter; it takes only 5-10 minutes to fly to the Hutt Valley. Because of a helicopter’s manoeuvrability the team was able to land nearby and bring a flying intensive care unit directly to Kendall’s side.

“That chopper saved my life,” says Kendall. “The Life Flight team were phenomenal. The careful way they moved me on to that stretcher and flew me means I not only survived, but can walk on crutches. Having that mobility has made a really positive impact on my life.”

After two hours at Wellington Hospital, Kendall needed specialist spinal care available only in Christchurch. His neck was still in a critical state so Life Flight transferred him in the air ambulance because of the longer distance. For people suffering neck and spinal injuries a delicate pre-flight process is undertaken to immobilise them. The patient is positioned onto a special vacuum mattress which has the air sucked out of it to become a perfectly moulded total-body splint.

“I was paralysed from the shoulders down for weeks but then finally managed to move one finger and showed mum, she was so excited.” After four-and-a-half months in Christchurch Hospital Kendall was released. With only limited movement from the waist down he needed to make major changes to his life.

Kendall had to turn his focus away from sport but was itching to get back to the workplace. “There were nine women in the team and me so I was keen to get back to it!” he jokes. “I’d started work at Westpac a couple of months before the accident. It was a bit uncanny to be saved by the Westpac chopper shortly after. I really wanted to repay the loyalty Westpac gave me by keeping my job open and being so supportive. The call centre team each gave me a day of their annual leave when I was in hospital, it meant so much.” More than a decade has passed since the accident and Kendall is proud to be a Westpac IT Manager today.

Kendall is still in a wheelchair and uses crutches in shorter bursts when needing more mobility. He’s still passionate about sport and says, “I’ve got no regrets. Mate I’d go out and play that rugby game again even if I had a choice. I’d probably try avoiding that tackle though!”

We cover Aotearoa, New Zealand

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