Paralysed rugby player encourages newly injured

BEEN THERE: Seti Tafua, left, and Colin Te Pohe meet for the first time. Both men suffered broken necks during rugby matches.
BEEN THERE: Seti Tafua, left, and Colin Te Pohe meet for the first time. Both men suffered broken necks during rugby matches.

Paralysed in a hospital bed, both men counted every spot on the roof while pondering whether they would walk again.

Seti Tafua and Colin Te Pohe share an unfortunate bond, having suffered broken necks during a rugby match - Mr Te Pohe in 2005 and Mr Tafua in June.

Late last year the pair met for the first time when Mr Tafua returned to his hometown of Wellington after months of rehabilitation.

Competing in his second-to-last game for his Sydney club Northern Suburbs, Mr Tafua knew instantly something had gone terribly wrong.

After hitting his head on the ground while entering a ruck, two cervical vertebrae fractured, shifting position and damaging his spinal cord. With no movement from the waist down, he spent several months in a Sydney Hospital plus three at the Auckland spinal unit before he was able to go home.

With a long road ahead of him - Mr Tafua has some movement and feeling in his legs but is still wheelchair-bound - Mr Te Pohe knows exactly what he can expect.

In 2005 he was told he would be paralysed from the neck down after suffering the same injury while playing club rugby for Wests. After several days in hospital he and his family were told doctors could operate, but there was a "99 per cent chance" it would leave him paralysed permanently.

Unable to speak, Mr Te Pohe blinked his approval and against all expectations he began to regain movement almost immediately, going on to fully recover and play rugby again before turning to refereeing.

Learning of Mr Tafua's injury, Mr Te Pohe contacted The Dominion Post asking to make sure a letter of encouragement was sent to the young player.

The ever-smiling Mr Tafua said Mr Te Pohe's message had been a "massive encouragement". At their meeting, the pair reminisced about their personal experiences, realising they both counted the spots on the roof above them as they lay paralysed and had both kept the rugby jerseys that were cut off them by hospital staff.

Work hard and never give up was the advice from Mr Te Pohe, who said the main chance of recovery lay with Mr Tafua himself.

"Just keep doing what you're doing, just go hard. It's a long process to the other side. Just keep your head up and go hard."

There seems little doubt Mr Tafua will give it his best shot, with this year's aim to "get back up on these pegs".

The Dominion Post