The terrible knock at the door

Last updated 10:01 03/04/2013
Te Pehi
LONG RECOVERY: Te Pehi is re-learning everything after being in a road crash.

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130 days after he was involved in a serious crash near Johnsonville, 20-year-old Te Pehi has almost re-learned how to swallow safely. He has been officially out of a coma for just two weeks. His mother tells the story of how the devastating crash affected their lives.

This is what people read on

"A crash on the motorway between Johnsonville and Newlands has left two people in a serious condition.

Both the north and south lane of State Highway 1 is blocked as emergency services attend the crash that involved two cars about 10.40pm, police central communications acting shift commander Sergeant Mark Oliver said.

A tanker truck behind the cars was also blocking the way, and traffic was being diverted through Johnsonville, he said.

An ambulance spokeswoman believed one car had spun out and two patients were in a serious condition."

The reality behind those four paragraphs was my son Te Pehi fighting for his life after being involved in a high speed crash.

That was 130 days ago and we are still living this nightmare.

I'll never forget the moment my heart broke. It was the police knocking on my door asking if my boy was at home. I knew he wasn't but had to check his bed. Empty.  

"Does your son have any identifying marks?" the cop asked. I described a couple of his Ta Moko. "You need to come with us," were the next words out of his mouth.

I don't remember much of the ride in, except being unable to breathe, crying, the cops talking, the road to Wellington Hospital still being blocked by the wreckage of the accident.  

Arriving at the emergency department we were rushed up to ICU.

A body was lying on the bed in front of me and if it wasn't for my boy's Ta Moko I would not have believed it was him: my beautiful blue-eyed boy, battered and broken, fighting to live after suffering broken bones and a severe head injury.

The surgeons explained that they were taking him to surgery to try and stabilise him, but that it didn't look good. They asked if we, (my parents, his Nan and Koro had rushed in) wanted to say goodbye. Goodbye?

The next question was if he 'crashed/died' did I want him resuscitated? I kept trying to wake up, but this was real.

He went off to surgery and made it through, but the first 48 hours are the hardest.  The surgeons took out a piece of his skull about the size of a bread plate.  There are no guarantees in ICU.  There are only two ways out of there, either you go to a ward or go home in a box.

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My boy had 24 days in ICU and over a month in the neurological ward. Thirteen operations, six MRIs, a few CAT scans, lumbar punctures, EEGs, are just some of the procedures he went through.

My youngest daughter was sitting her NCEA exams and her way of coping was to carry on and sit them.  My youngest son was training for Waka Ama nationals and this became his way of coping.  My eldest girl stayed by my side at the hospital, making sure I was OK.

My parents and my sister took over caring for my younger two, extended whanau and friends stepped up to help as they could. My brother and his two young ones and my closest cousin flew over from Melbourne.

My boy's mates all came to see him. They tried being brave. They all got a hell of a shock, and I saw them all sob when they saw the state of my boy.

The day I write this it is only 130 days since the crash. My boy has officially been out of his coma for just over two weeks.

We don't know who was driving as he and the other boy were both thrown from the car.  The police will investigate and we can finally get some answers.

My boy is in a residential brain injury rehabilitation facility and as far as brain injuries go, we are luckier than some. He can speak, remembers us, remembers before the crash and still has the same cheeky personality. He has to re-learn everything. Swallowing safely was his first goal, which has almost been achieved.

We are hoping my boy will be home with us by Christmas 2013.

Now when I read or hear of an accident, I think of the families of the crash victims first.  Someone's mum, dad, sister, brother, nan, koro, best mate, lover or friend's heart is breaking and I know just how they feel.


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