Little battlers: Taking on a train

Last updated 15:00 13/02/2013
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SHANNYN: More than 13 after her accident, Shannyn still experiences pain.

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My little battler is now 25 years old - a testament to the dedication and expertise of New Zealand medical staff. She is also a living testament that miracles still occur in this world.

It was New Years Day 1999, and my husband, Stephen, had taken the kids to a Canterbury fishing spot between Kaiapoi and Rangiora. When it was time to go home, Stephen called out to the kids to come back to the car.

He and nine-year-old Brooke started heading back, while 11-year-old Shannyn and 15-year-old Steven were still up on the bridge, trying to hook a dead fish so at least they'd have something to take home.

It's amazing how something as big as a train can be so silent. The kids didn't even realise it was coming until it was too late.

Steven managed to jump, but to all the witnesses, Shannyn appeared to be sucked under the train. Somehow, she was found clinging to a steel bridge rail by one arm.

Miraculously, she was still alive. Even more so, a Canadian paramedic happened to be a passenger, and ran back to care for her. Had that lady not been there, Shannyn would probably have died right there on the side of the train tracks because other well-meaning people wanted to move her. Had they done so, the shattered bones would have sliced through her femoral arteries and she would have bled to death. Her injuries included two shattered femurs, internal injuries and a severe concussion.

I doubt I will ever forget those hours. The call from my husband, and the dear lady who volunteered to take me to the hospital because the police wouldn't let me drive.

That night, our wonderful orthopaedic surgeon took me aside, and assured me that everything would be fine. She may not grow quite as tall as she otherwise would have, but she would be put into traction for three to six months, and would be up and about within a year. A year later he confessed that he looked at her x-rays, and had no idea how he'd put my broken little girl back together again.

She had surgery that night to repair internal injuries. I decided that not one word of doubt would be uttered in her hearing, or even in her vicinity. The optimism the staff had given me would be used to give her the best chance possible.

She just had to make it through a full 72-hour danger period, and her chances of survival would become excellent. Of course, the pain she endured was horrific even though she was under the care of the pain relief team.

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The next day it was decided that instead of traction, they'd insert titanium metalware and she'd be non-weight-bearing for three months. The surgery went well, and instead of the 21 days they projected, she was out of hospital in 13 days, yet another miracle.

By the end of that same year, she competed in the Kaiapoi Borough School swimming competitions, and won!

Further surgery removed most of the metalware. Infection, therapy, and scar revision surgery meant the journey was well over two years in total, and to this day she cannot jump, run or stand for long periods without pain. One leg is slightly longer than the other, and she has scars that run two-thirds of the way down both thighs.

Through all of this, she remained strong, positive and very appreciative of the fantastic doctors, nurses and staff at Christchurch Riverside Children's Wing, as are the rest of our family. I am also grateful to the staff at the Papanui ACC office, who were kind, helpful and very responsive to us.

We experienced many miracles that day, and I will always be grateful that my beautiful girl had the chance to grow up.

However, that doesn't change the fact that the train was doing exactly what it was meant to, the human beings were not. Train tracks are for trains, they are dangerous places for people.

We do not have the right to put the drivers through the horror of watching someone go under their locomotives.

Please, stay away and stay safe. Use common sense, and take the long way if you have to, or wait those few minutes for a train to go through the level crossing. It's not worth risking the agony that my girl went through, or the pain of watching her suffer.

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