On Christmas morning, all they could do was cry.
It had been five years since the horseriding accident that left Carolyn Beaver a tetraplegic.
But on the day of festivities, it hit Ms Beaver and husband Doug Passmore that nothing would ever change.
"We were like, ‘This is it, isn't it?'," said Ms Beaver. "You know things aren't ever going to really change, but every now and again it's a bit of a slap in the face."
The psychological pain of living with disability has helped Ms Beaver in her role as a research assistant on a Massey University study into the recovery of people with spinal cord injury.
The study's authors are now calling for ACC to extend cover to all those with spinal cord injury, after discovering ACC cover had a huge impact on people's life quality.
Massey University associate professor Sarah Derrett said the study of 118 people from the country's two spinal units found those who received ACC compensation had better access to health care, recovered faster, and were more likely to return to work.
People who did not qualify often spiralled into poverty, with an average income drop of 45 per cent, greatly impeding recovery.
"These are all working age people, and it effects not just them but their families. It's very, very unfair."
About 20 per cent of people with a spinal cord injury are not covered by ACC, mostly because their injury is caused by a sudden illness, not an accident.
Ms Beaver, who interviewed the study's participants, said ACC was not an "easy ride", but allowed people to rehabilitate properly. "Most people want to contribute to society."
Ms Beaver does not qualify for ACC because she was in England when she had her accident.
The former veterinarian was on a trail alongside the M25 motorway when her horse bolted and sent her flying towards a tree.
She remembers lying at the tree's base, with branches jabbing her and the terrifying realisation that she couldn't feel her legs.
After six months of intensive rehabilitation in the UK, she returned to New Zealand and the Burwood Spinal Unit. She has regained some movement of her right hand and leg.
But she has had to give up being a vet, as her hands are not dexterous enough.
She has been forced to delay surgery due to cost, and fundraised for six years to buy the $60,000 modified van that will allow her the independence of driving. Both would most likely have been funded under ACC.
While she understood why she was not covered, it had had a big impact on her recovery, Ms Beaver said.
And the lack of cover is particularly unjust for those with spinal injury caused by sudden illnesses. "Having cancer is no more their fault than someone tripping up the stairs . . . in some cases people have accidents when breaking the law and still get ACC, so people find it really frustrating."
ACC spokeswoman Stephanie Melville said it was currently working with the Ministry of Health on improving the way services were delivered to people with spinal cord injury, both accident and illness-related.
ACC Minister Judith Collins was unavailable for comment.
- The Dominion Post
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