Gatland learning to walk again after freak fall
LIAM NAPIER IN CARDIFF
Warren Gatland still vividly remembers the moment he feared he would lose a leg.
Life for the former All Black hooker turned successful international coach changed dramatically on Easter Monday this year, just after 8am.
Gatland had woken early on a pristine Coromandel day, deciding to clean the windows at his family bach at Waihi Beach. The job was almost finished. One dirty window remained, just slightly out of reach. Gatland wouldn't be satisfied until the job was complete, so he edged closer and climbed onto the ledge of the house's deck.
The rugby world was to quickly learn what happened next. As his feet shuffled along the railing, Gatland stretched to push the long-handled hose-brush higher. Suddenly he lost balance and toppled backwards.
In that one terrifying moment, life as the Welsh rugby coach knew it then was turned upside down.
Rugby was put in immediate perspective. He says his family was his immediate thought as he tumbled through the air.
Falling three metres on to concrete, Gatland broke both heels in the freak accident.
"Straight away I knew I'd done a lot of damage," Gatland recalled. "You're cleaning the windows at the beach and you fall off and you think ‘if things had of gone bad I could have lost my leg'."
As Gatland lay prone on the ground in agony, his wife, Trudy, was upstairs, unaware.
Fortunately, some locals saw the accident and rushed to his aid.
"There was a couple walking past. They came over to me and said ‘are you all right?' I said ‘no' and they called an ambulance.
"I was rushed to Waikato Hospital and pumped full of morphine on the way there to kill the pain."
Both ankles were fractured, his right particularly severely shattered from the impact of the fall.
The initial advice was non-surgical intervention due to the major risk of a crippling infection from an operation.
"If you get an infection in your foot or leg they are quite difficult to heal and there is the potential to lose your leg," he said.
After being given the all-clear to return to Wales, a shock setback made Gatland confront that scary prospect.
"Unfortunately I had a small fracture blister that hadn't healed and it got infected. It was pretty messed up in terms of the heel and the swelling for a few months. I had a bit of nerve and tendon damage that you get from such an injury."
Six weeks ago Gatland's progress stalled. He required two skin grafts - from his instep and calf - during surgery. He was back on crutches. Back to square one.
"I went in with one wound and came out with three," he said of the operation in Bristol.
Yesterday, as he rejoined the Welsh, the former All Black hooker's right-foot moonboot and limp was noticeable.
"I'm learning to walk again. I'm hoping in the next three or four weeks I'll be back in a shoe . . . and not cleaning windows."
The 49-year-old can see the irony of playing a record 140 games for the Mooloos and not being seriously damaged, only to suffer a horrendous injury from cleaning windows.
From here, his recovery is about small steps - literally.
He won't ever compete in a marathon; just slipping into a shoe and playing a round of golf would be an achievement.
Yet, after all this, he feels thankful there was no long-term damage to his spine or neck.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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