Katie Ferguson: My Story

07-May-2014

My trip was booked, nine weeks travelling through South America with my best friend. It was going to be a life-changing experience - and change my life is exactly what happened.

It was five weeks in and we were in La Paz, Bolivia. On the 18th of August we went on a mountain bike riding tour on which was said to be down the most dangerous road in the world, Death Road. As scary as the tour sounded it was a lot of fun. We rode the 61 km down a gravel road with a shear cliff on one side. The scenery was incredible, like something you would see in a postcard.

The drive back into the city was a long two hours. I was sitting in the back of the mini bus facing the aisle. We had been driving for about one and a half hours when I heard a bang and was thrown into the air. I remember being propelled into the air and flailing my arms around trying to hold onto something. The next thing I remember I had landed in the aisle and was a bit disorientated and unsure of what had just happened. I thought the bottom of the bus had fallen through, as from the waist down I felt weightless. I remember looking down and seeing my legs beneath me and realised that I could not feel or move them. Panic ripped through my body.

It was a 30-minute drive to the hospital - but it seemed like a lifetime. There was an agonising pain in my back and the fear of not being able to move or feel my legs was terrifying. Once we reached the hospital I was transferred onto a spinal board and taken inside. After having a CT scan the doctor came in to tell me that I had a T12 burst fracture that was pushing into my spinal canal and that I needed to have emergency spinal surgery. They said if I did not have the surgery within four hours it could become life-threatening and I may never walk again.

While I was in surgery my family were contacted and advised of what had happened. The next week was a blur of pain and emotion. My older brother Tim flew over from Australia to help and support me. He straightaway took charge, helping with my pressure care, moving my legs and joints. He was my rock. It was difficult being in a foreign country and not knowing the language. I was forced to learn a few words, which helped me get by. The most crucial word being 'dolor'... English for pain.

The flights home took my travel insurance a week and a half to coordinate. I was flown in a medivac plane from La Paz to Buenos Aries, where I was admitted to the hospital there for two nights. From there I was flown on a stretcher in a commercial plane with South African Airlines. We had a 14-hour layover in Johannesburg where once again I was checked into the local hospital. My brother flew back with me along with two Australian nurses who met us in Buenos Aries. We reached Perth on 1st September. It was a highly emotional experience seeing my family and my boyfriend for the first time. I was trying to keep smiling but I remember as soon as everyone left my room I broke down in tears.

The following day is one that I will never forget. I was having my sensation and movement assessed by one of the physiotherapists. She asked me to move my toes on my left foot. Nothing happened. She asked me to try again to move my big toe, and ever so slightly it wiggled. I was so excited I had tears in my eyes. Over the following couple of weeks I regained more movement in my left foot, ankle and leg. I was so excited about how much function I was regaining in my left leg but couldn't help but worry my right side would not wake up. On 18th September during a physio session I was staring at my right toes willing them to move when finally I saw a slight movement.

I was admitted to hospital for three months and attending physiotherapy sessions everyday. My movement strengthened and started to become more functional. In the start I was being assisted to walk by three physiotherapists, one on either side of me and one in front helping me to move my right leg. The day I left Shenton Park, I was down to two people assisted walking and could walk short distances with the aid of crutches. After leaving Shenton Park Hospital, I had rehab at home for six weeks before returning as an outpatient for physiotherapy.

It is now over seven months since my accident. I am attending outpatient physiotherapy at Shenton Park three times a week and the “Walk On” program twice a week. My mobility is improving everyday. I am down to walking with the assistance of one person and can walk greater distances with my crutches.

Having a spinal cord injury is the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in my life. Everyday is not only a physical challenge, but also a mental challenge. Whenever I feel myself struggling I have to remind myself of where I was seven months ago and how far I have come. I am so proud of my achievements and am so thankful for the love and support I have received from everyone in my life.

Katie Ferguson will be participating in the HBF Run for a Reason on May 25th in Perth, Western Australia. As part of the fun run, Katie has chosen to raise funds for the Spinal Cord Injury Network, for which we are truly grateful. To date, Katie has raised over $11,000 on her Everyday Hero page hbfrun2014.everydayhero.com/au/katie   

Katie you have a beautiful spirit and are an inspiration to us all.



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