Tony Herring should have died on the marble floor of Christchurch Town Hall after breaking his neck falling over a balcony.
The commercial property lawyer has defied the odds – not only by making a near-full recovery, but stunning doctors, family and work colleagues by training for one of the most gruelling endurance races in the country, next year's Ironman New Zealand.
Herring, of Christchurch, was at a law dinner in November 2010, when he lost his balance, fell over the balcony and landed on his head.
"I got knocked out for about two minutes and I had lost feeling in my legs. I could hear people around me saying, 'Oh my God', 'Call an ambulance', 'Don't touch him' ... it was the most bizarre feeling. It felt like my head was buried in the tiles and my legs were in the air."
He was rushed to Burwood Hospital's spinal unit where doctors told him, "You should have died and I was very, very, very, very lucky", after discovering he had smashed his cervical vertebra (C2), and bruised his spinal cord.
He was told the most common outcome for his injury was death. The second most common was paralysis and life on a ventilator.
Paralysis was a very real fear for Herring, who could not feel his legs for 24 hours.
The next three months was "psychological torture" as he spent his days flat on his back with a halo screwed into his head.
"I was always active before the injury and to all of a sudden be flat on your back and not being able to move ... it was so mentally challenging," he said.
"I could not eat solids for three months, I had to be fed through a straw. I was 93 kilos before I went into hospital and I was 68 kilos when I came out." It was the months of inactivity in hospital and six months off work in a neck brace recovering that gave him the motivation to start training 10 months ago for the Ironman 2013 being held in Taupo in March.
"I certainly would not be doing this Ironman if it wasn't for the accident. I have never done it before in my life. I was incredibly unfit when I left hospital so I have had to start from scratch but it's just something I have to do.
"It's been a challenging 10 months – it's crazy but I love it. My GP said I was nuts, but I told him, `I'm doing Ironman – I don't care what you say'. He thinks I am addicted to endorphins – either that or I need to see a psychiatrist."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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