Dream cut short by spinal disease

JESS ETHERIDGE
Last updated 05:00 11/04/2014
Richard Hormon
Jess Etheridge
STUDENT PERSERVERES: Richard Harmon, 27, was diagnosed with the spinal disease osteochondrosis in January.

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A 27-year-old's dream of being a builder has been cut short by a rare spinal disease.

But Richard Harmon says he will still compete in the New Zealand Carpentry Apprentice Challenge on Saturday in Auckland and will be reliant on painkillers to get through.

He was diagnosed with osteochondrosis  in January when doctors examined him after a fall.

Harmon says tests showed he had advanced spinal damage for his age and that three discs had died.

"The doctor said 'I don't think the pain's going to disappear for a while, maybe a couple years'.

"That was really hard to take because I've almost finished my time here," the fourth-year building apprentice at the Auckland-based tertiary provider Unitec says.

"I felt robbed. That was probably the hardest news I've had so far. Soul-breaking, really."

Bending and heavy lifting will make the pain worse over time, meaning Harmon runs the risk of speeding up the disease or paralysis.

He's on strong painkillers so he can continue working to financially support himself.

"It's definitely really hard because the pain is always there but it's just what do I do? That's all I know how to do. I need to get by."

Harmon says he is determined to stay in the industry, and is exploring project management.

Entrants in this weekend's challenge will have eight hours to build a garden seat, using their planning, maths and carpentry skills.

Each seat will be donated to an Auckland hospice and winners will go through to the national finals in Hamilton in June.

The winner gets $5000 worth of prizes, including an Outward Bound trip.

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- Auckland City Harbour News

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