Mother in panic over tetraplegic son's missing carers video

RORY O'SULLIVAN/Stuff.co.nz

Quadriplegic Ben Clifford may never walk again but the thought of being able to push himself in a wheelchair is enough to sustain him as he looks forward to bringing up his four-year-old daughter.

It was a normal Thursday night for Kellie Aitchison until her tetraplegic son's carers suddenly pulled the plug.

Now Aitchison wakes up in the middle of the night wracked with anxiety over who will care for her 25-year-old son, Ben Clifford.

Clifford, who broke his neck two years ago pool diving, requires specialist round-the-clock care, something his mum is unable to provide.

Daughter Alizay comforts Ben Clifford as Ben's "exhausted" mum Kellie Aitchison wonders what's next.
SIMON MAUDE/FAIRFAX NZ

Daughter Alizay comforts Ben Clifford as Ben's "exhausted" mum Kellie Aitchison wonders what's next.

She is "still in shock" over Thursday's "incredible" events.

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First police arrived at their Silverdale home, north of Auckland, and confiscated Clifford's marijuana supply, which he smokes to combat "full body muscle spasms", she said.

In 2015, newly tetraplegic Ben Clifford met Prince Harry at the Auckland Spinal Unit.
SUPPLIED

In 2015, newly tetraplegic Ben Clifford met Prince Harry at the Auckland Spinal Unit.

"Marijuana calms [Clifford's muscles] down enough so that he can drive his wheelchair around and try to have as much of a normal life as possible. It also stimulates his appetite as otherwise he just won't eat, he has no appetite whatsoever.

"It was all very calm, no charges have been laid."

Then about 6.30pm things got worse. Someone from Life Plus, which has supplied carers to Clifford for two years, called and asked his carer to "pack her bag and leave", Aitchison said.

Ben Clifford walks daughter Alizay's pony Teddy with Ben's mother Kellie Aitchison.
SUPPLIED

Ben Clifford walks daughter Alizay's pony Teddy with Ben's mother Kellie Aitchison.

"I do think they said something to the police [about Ben's marijuana] but we will never know."

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The caller said Life Plus wouldn't supply Clifford with another carer.

Life Plus general manager Michelle Batchelor refused to comment on Aitchison's account citing the matter was "part of an ongoing police investigation". 

ACC FRUSTRATION

Aitchison telephoned Ben's ACC case manager, who told her Life Plus said Ben's carers felt in danger.

The case manager couldn't act because it was a "case of he said, she said", she said she was told.

Bed-ridden Clifford has been left with issues like a leaking catheter, she said.

"They just left us with nobody. I'm scared for Ben's health and we don't know what we are going to do."

After being told by Clifford's case manager to find a private carer, Aitchison searched in vain for qualified minders. 

"Finding caregivers online that have had experience with looking after tetraplegics was a nightmare, we can't go to another agency because ACC won't let us until until this gets sorted out."

Aitchison eventually found a website offering caregivers with little experience looking for work.

A friend of Clifford's was looking after him on Sunday night but past that, Kellie was deeply worried.

She woke early on Sunday morning suffering an anxiety attack.

She already has to care for Clifford's six-year-old daughter and now worries she may struggle to keep her job as a screenprinter having to look after Clifford too.

ACC spokeswoman Stephanie Melville said the corporation continued to fund Clifford's fulltime care but was "unable to approach alternative care agencies last Friday" without knowing the outcome of the police investigation.

"To ensure that Ben wasn't left without the appropriate level of care, ACC offered other options, which he declined."

In the meantime, the corporation was funding Ben's private care, Melville said.

"ACC is happy to contact other agencies about assuming Ben's care, but has a responsibility to provide any potential agencies with relevant information. We have asked Ben for his permission and are awaiting his response.

"ACC is committed to providing Ben, and all our serious injury clients, with the highest standard of service, and supports that meet their injury related needs."

 - Stuff

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