The Medowie community has begun to rally around paraplegic and mum of two Kerrie Middleton to buy her a wheelchair like no other.
She was airlifted from off the Stockton sand dunes after a quad bike accident 13 years ago and hasn’t walked since.
But it did motivate her to become a school chaplain so she could help others – even if she had to give up her dreams of travel. Or has it?
Kerrie Middleton is a self-confessed speed demon. For better or worse.
The year was 2004 and the rehabilitation manager was out on the dunes with her husband, Peter and their boys, Zac, 4 and Daniel, 10.
No way, was Kerrie there to watch, she was there to ride.
“I had been out for about an hour and was on my way back to the boys,” she recalled.
“But I was one sand dune over from where I thought I was and I hit it too hard.”
The quad is believed to have landed on her back.
“I was found unconscious on the ground and we think I had hit the ground head first,” she said.
As her worried family looked on Kerrie was airlifted to hospital via the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.
She would spend the next year in the spinal ward at Royal North Shore hospital.
Given her professional background she quickly became attuned to those around her.
“There was a lot of men, paraplegics and quads who had been in car accidents, bike accidents, that sort of thing,” she said.
“I would watch them and how they responded to physical contact. When my mum came to visit me, I told her, next time embrace that man and hold it.
“After that, these men would tell me how lovely my mum was and how much that had meant to them.”
Along with the physical rehab came the emotional scars.
She declined counselling but took the words of a chaplain to heart.
His advice to her was simple, you need to move on, for your family’s sake.
“From early on, I thought, ‘I’m really lucky, I can still use my arms’,” she said.
Life changed very quickly. The two-storey home at Valentine was unsuitable and it was only after they visited friends in Medowie that they stumbled upon the listing for what would become their home.
Her decision to work as a chaplain was a “logical step”.
“I’ve always been a practice manager for GPs and surgeons which led into the rehab work,” she said.
“I think working as a chaplain, the students can relate to me, they know I’ve done it tough.
“A lot of them come from homes where mum and dad have divorced and they say ‘I want a normal family’.
“The truth is, they are the new normal and even if a child’s parents are still together it’s no guarantee he or she is happy. You have to accept the life you’re in.”
The Middleton family was changed forever the day Kerrie had her crash. Not necessarily in a bad way.
“My youngest, Zac is now 16, and he doesn’t see people as having disabilities,” Kerrie said.
“In school, these boys and girls would gravitate toward him because of that. He was there to help.”
Kerrie speaks fondly of all her boys, including her eldest Daniel, 22, who was always a brother Zac looked up to, and of course her husband Peter.
Peter adapted to the new life the best way he knew how.
“My husband put together this hoist, to help get me in the car,” she said.
“These things he’s made and worked out, he’s now able to help other people.
My husband is now leaving his job as a mechanic to be a carer.
While Kerrie has done much to help others, the community has shown it wants to help her.
“I’m 54 now and its hard on my shoulders, elbows and wrists,” she said.
“It’s getting harder to get up and down ramps.”
The Ogo is a New Zealand-designed wheelchair in pre-production that works like a Segway.
Her family and the community has already raised $1800 for one through a Go Fund Me page.
Like a Segway, users tilt their body to operate the wheelchair, only the Ogo responds to the subtle movement of people in the chair rather than through handlebars.
“My husband came home from work one day and said, ‘oh my goodness, you’ve got to get one of these,” Kerrie said.
“Instead of using my arms, I would be able to use my pelvis and core muscles to make it work.”
The inventor Kevin Halshall designed it for a paraplegic friend.
It will cost the Middleton family $25,000 to get one landed in Australia and while reluctant at first, Mrs Middleton has put her hand up for help.
“As I said to my dad, I’m not normally the type of person to ask for help,” she said.
“I play bridge and even the ladies there said, ‘we’re doing this for you’.”
It was the online videos that swayed Mrs Middleton in the end.
“I had scratched all these dreams I’d had, like travelling Australia and going into the canyons in places like the Kimberleys,” she said.
“As soon as I saw those videos, it sparked the dream again.
“When I talk about the Ogo I get excited about being on the water’s edge at the beach, like I did when my sons were boys.”
Kerrie, also a NDIS coordinator, said she is eligible for a traditional electric wheelchair, of the joystick variety. But she’s resisted the move.
“When I’m at school working I often forget that I’m paralyzed, I think I’m just sitting in a chair,” she said.
“This Ogo would give me independence as I would not have to rely on someone to push me or carry things for me.”
To support the Middleton family with its goal visit www.gofundme.com/kerriemiddletonparaplegic