Life can change in a split second.
A split second that can be forever.
No-one is more acutely aware of this daily risk than Tongala's Zack and Harly Adam, and their 11-month-old daughter Grace.
Because nothing under their Christmas tree could hold a candle to the most precious Christmas gift imaginable — the one that let Zack walk away from a pool accident in Western Australia on December 14.
The accident had left him with spinal damage to his C1, 2, 6 and 7 and T2, 3 and 5 vertebrae.
There were enough damaged numbers in there to have turned Zack into a quadriplegic — in a split second.
Or injuries people might have discussed in hushed tones at his funeral, because he might not have survived the accident at all.
“We are so lucky and grateful to still have Zack,” Harly said.
“A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to walk away from an accident like this and many spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair.”
Boilermaker Zack had travelled to Karratha on Western Australia’s north-west coast, in the heart of its mining boom, to earn a few extra Christmas dollars after casual work had dried up in Echuca.
He had been away from home for a month when the accident occurred, after he misjudged the depth of the pool.
“Zack had finished work and was cooling off with his mates” Harly said.
“He went to do a bomb as he jumped in but he hit the bottom and the force shot him forward into the ledge of the pool, smashing his neck and breaking six vertebra and causing ligament damage.”
Initially he walked out of the pool assisted by his mates, but they soon called an ambulance when a dazed Zack said something didn’t feel quite right.
After being assessed by paramedics, Zack was put in a neck collar and taken to a hospital in Karratha, then airlifted to Royal Perth Hospital where he was fitted with a metal halo around his head and an immobilising vest, which he has to wear for the next three months.
“If the halo does its job Zack will have to wear the collar for another month,” Harly said.
“If not, he faces surgery and another three months of uncertainty.”
There will also be weeks of physiotherapy and rehab to follow up; the current worst case scenario could see Zack out of work for as long as eight months.
“Zack’s job involves lots of heavy lifting and at the moment he can’t lift anything heavier than 5 kg — and that excludes his much-loved baby girl,” Harly said.
Under the circumstances, Harly and Zack know they couldn’t have asked for a better prognosis, but they also know Zack isn’t out of danger yet, as any knock or strain still has the potential to sever his spinal cord.
Harly said receiving the phone call about the accident was heartbreaking and she made the decision to leave Grace at home with family while she flew to Perth to be by Zack's side.
“I didn’t know how long I was going to be gone for and I knew hospital was no place for Grace,” she said.
“We are so grateful to my brother and sister-in-law who have cared for her so well and to everyone else who has helped look after our house and our dog while we have been away.
“I am originally from Melbourne and I have never known anything like the support we have been shown since Zack's accident; it’s like we now have a family and community of 500 people helping and supporting us.”
Zack was discharged from hospital a week after he was admitted and spent the next couple of weeks as an outpatient.
Finally, on January 6, they were able to make the trip home.
Unable to fly, the couple was going to hire a car and drive home but the Eyre Highway, the only main road across the Nullarbor, was cut and closed by bushfires.
This left no option but seats on the Indian Pacific train — and $3000 for tickets.
The journey left an already drained Harly in tears.
“It was so stressful because it was so rough and I was really scared something was going to happen to Zack,” she said.
Arriving in Adelaide they hired a car and drove to Melbourne for an appointment at the Austin Hospital on Wednesday.
Harly said they were just looking forward to getting home and reuniting as a family.
“We missed Grace’s first Christmas and she has learnt so many things while we have been away, such as clapping her hands and lots of new words.
“It has been a hard time for us all, particularly for Zack who has been away from home for two months.”
Harly said Zack was her best mate and fatherhood has brought out a soft side in him she had never seen before.
“He just dotes on Grace and has taken to fatherhood so well — Zack is the type of person who would always help anyone but would never ask or expect any for himself,” she said.
Harly met Zack six years ago.
He has been sporting a glorious red mullet hairstyle for the past seven years so Harly has never actually known him without it — but the mullet vanished in hospital when the halo was put on.
To acknowledge the loss of his signature hairstyle (and to support the family) an Aussie Bogan Fundraiser will be held at the Torrumbarry Hotel from 4 pm on Saturday, February 22.
It will include raffles, auctions, jelly wrestling, best-dressed bogan and a $1000 first-prize ticket draw (100 tickets will be sold for $50, with second prize of $500 and third prize of $250).
Organiser Vicki Coffin said they were also looking for donations of raffle and auction items.
“Zack is a great guy and we are doing a bit to help him and his family out — we are very grateful for the donations we already have but the more the merrier,” Vicki said.
Zack and Harly said they had been overwhelmed by the support from family, friends and the wider community, humbled that so many people they know and/or haven’t met, have been so happy to help them.
Harly said the community support they were receiving was something she doubted would have ever happened if they lived in Melbourne, or some other big city.
Coming home to Tongala and his family — and his “amazing” support network — was always going to be the best next step for Zack.
For more information about the fundraiser, phone Vicki on 0407 387 608 or Betty on 0488 210 169.
A gofundme page has also been set up and has currently raised more than $16 000.