Crash victim's life changed forever
Norbert Eichblatt should not be alive.
It's by a series of coincidences the former coffee roaster's life was saved on a sunny Friday in 2011.
He will never forget the day - April Fool's Day.
"I was the original fool. If I had been on the receiving end in the hospital, I would have sent me straight to the incinerator," he says, laughing now, as he looks back over almost five years of rehabilitation.
The then 68 year old had spent the morning in Hamilton tasting the coffee before deciding to take the scenic route home to his wife in Te Aroha.
He cruised the highway on his motorcycle just outside of Morrinsville. Police believe he was travelling about 72 kilometres per hour.
"Suddenly there is a blank - that's obviously something that got lost," he pauses, trying to recall the crash that left him with memory loss and lack of energy.
"Everything was a beautifully clear, lovely day. I wasn't going fast, there was no traffic - it was one straight line for about 2km."
On the left, just past the fertiliser works on the Morrinsville-Walton Rd, several properties were having open gardens.
Heading in the opposite direction were an 82-year-old man and his wife.
"The car coming in the opposite direction just wasn't looking for the road, he was looking for the entrance to turn in, and that's where he turned, straight into me."
Eichblatt was thrown 10 metres from his bike.
He lay with a broken neck, collarbone, broken arms, broken legs, five broken ribs - three on the left and two on the right. A haematoma on his brain.
"The impact actually ripped the heart away from the blood vessels, when my body stopped, my heart kept on travelling. I lost half my lungs."
Bystanders attending the open gardens wanted to move his unconscious body from the road.
Had it not been for a nurse passing by who stopped them, he would be dead.
"My neck was broken. If they had moved me, it would have finished me.
"That was the first life-saving occurrence. The next was an ambulance, which had just finished delivering someone in Morrinsville and was available immediately - it was just coincidence."
The alternative would have been an ambulance from Hamilton and a deadly wait.
"They raced me through to Waikato Hospital where, again, so many things came together."
It was Friday afternoon and the emergency team were about to knock off for the weekend.
"They were whistled back, which was the next lucky break, and went to work immediately on my carcass."
Led by trauma specialist Grant Christey, and a team of other specialists, including world-renowned heart surgeon Adam EL-Gamel, 19 operations were performed in the hours that followed to piece Eichblatt's body back together.
They chilled him to 20 degrees and he underwent a cardiac bypass so the surgeons could operate while his heart was still beating.
"It was an exceptional - what they have done - I'm the real Humpty Dumpty that got put together again. After that, they didn't have any certainty I would survive."
Eichblatt woke from an induced coma five weeks later and spent four-and-a-half months in hospital rehabilitating.
Once an active mountain biker, motorcyclist and hiker, Eichblatt lost an inch off his left leg and had to learn to walk again.
"Just to stand up is a major effort, initially. That active part of my everyday life stopped dead. My activities are mostly sedentary."
He credits Christey's trauma team.
"They were my lifeline, they were the only people I had continuous contact with, someone I could talk to daily, when I was in the hospital."
The 72-year-old is one of thousands of people left seriously injured in crashes in New Zealand each year.
Over the Christmas period, from 6pm Christmas Eve to 6am on Tuesday, 12 people died because of road crashes. Another person died on Tuesday in a crash near Rotorua.
But dozens of others involved in the 1617 crashes nationwide over the holidays were left hospitalised with serious injuries.
According to the Ministry of Transport figures for 2014, every life lost costs $3.95 million.
Every serious injury costs an average of $419,300 and minor injuries $22,400.
Eichblatt estimates it cost $10,000 alone for his wife to daily drive from Te Aroha to Hamilton and back while he was hospitalised.
The driver who hit him had cataracts. He was convicted of reckless driving, lost his licence, was fined $500 and ordered to pay Eichblatt $1500 in reparation.
"The direct cost to me is hundreds of thousands and my life has changed dramatically.
"You can't stop others making mistakes. You can only make sure that if something goes wrong, you can stop yourself, but you can't stop others."
District Road Policing Manager Inspector Freda Grace said the emotional cost means the community pays a huge price for poor decisions on our roads.
"What road tolls can't portray are all the people who suffered life altering injuries as a result of road trauma and the impact this has on not only them but their families, their friends and even employers."
"Everyone is out there trying to save lives and it's the sheer avoidability of these deaths that is so tragic."
Last year, 42 people died in 39 crashes in the Waikato.