Family's love helps deal with dark days

Lyn Elsley talks about her life with paraplegia.
Lyn Elsley talks about her life with paraplegia. Rob Williams

THERE are a lot of dark times in Lyn Elsley's life but her strength of character backed by special supporters help her see the light.

The first Booval's Lyn Elsley really knew about spinal cord injuries was when she became a paraplegic nine years ago.

She wants to share her experience of having a permanent physical disability to prevent and raise awareness about spinal cord injuries.

In April 2003 Lyn sustained paraplegia after thyroid surgery complications, which resulted in numerous operation and a coma that lasted months.

Going from working full-time and leading an active social life to using a wheelchair permanently was extremely challenging and something Lyn never imagined would happen to her.


SHARING HER EXPERIENCE: Lyn Elsley talks about life with paraplegia.
SHARING HER EXPERIENCE: Lyn Elsley talks about life with paraplegia. Contributed

Lyn Elsley grew up in Ipswich, went to school here, got married, had a child and then got divorced.


A wandering spirit, she travelled around Australia and had another child but he died eight years ago.

"Just after that, on July 9 2003 I had my thyroid out. I got golden staph in my brain and on my spine and I ended up with a neck full of infection," Lyn said.

"I had it re-operated on and when I went for a check-up they took the drain out and on the way out it started bleeding.

"Three weeks later my daughter found me on the bed. I was in wonderland."

After another visit to hospital in December, it healed up and she thought it must have been all right but then she started having falls.

"The next thing I woke up and it was January 24, I was in intensive care and my girls were told if I survived I'd be a vegetable," she said.

"I went to the PA where they found pockets of infection still in my spine. I regained use of my right side but had to walk with a walking stick."

In February 2005 she went on her first plane trip and a cruise and followed up in 2006 and 2007 with more flights and cruises.

But by the time she got back from a tour of Canada, Alaska and the west coast of the US and another trip in Australia, she could barely walk.

Unable to get into hospital, she saw a private neurosurgeon who found a cyst on her spinal chord.

In February her legs went into spasms, she couldn't bend them and she spent seven months in hospital following more spinal surgery.

"Since then I've had three more stays in hospital. In November 2010 I was on life support with pneumonia," Lyn said.

After the last time in intensive care, when she woke up she had lost so much muscle tone she couldn't even move a finger.

"I didn't know where I was; it was really scary," she said.

"Everyone kept saying I should sue but by the time I found out it was negligence it was two months over the seven years you're allowed to take action. I could still do it but I'd have to pay so when I win Lotto I am going to do it.

"I used to be able to put my shoes on but in the last 12 months I've just deteriorated."

The shining lights in Lyn's life are her daughter Raani, her son-in-law David and the Spinal Injuries Association.

"Raani means the world to me. She's my rock, my gold. She's a really, really good kid. She's a beautiful girl," Lyn said, smiling.

"There were times over the years that my legs would completely lock up from the muscle spasms. Raani would stop by on her way to work, get me out of bed, showered and dressed.

"I've just had a hoist put in; the Spinal Injuries Association helped with that.

"Gail Pitt is a physiotherapist there and she's absolutely wonderful. Any problems you have at all you just ring up and they'll do whatever they can."

While the QT visited, talk of what's on the horizon and the possibility of treatment was the only thing that really got Lyn down.

"There's nothing they can do. Nothing. It's the pain that gets me. I'm on strong painkillers and it makes life bearable but sometimes it's not," she said, breaking into tears before quickly snapping out of it.

"But I've got Raani and she's been with David for 10 years. They've finally got married and they'll most likely be starting a family in the new year so I'll have some grandchildren. I bought a Kia Carnival and they flew to Sydney to drive it back.

"It's a family car with a lowered floor with a pull-down ramp. It's a real beauty; I become part of the back seat. I'll get to sit between the grandchildren."

Now laughing, she talks about how she loves teasing David, a NSW rugby league supporter, about Queensland's State of Origin dominance.

Spinal Injuries Association chief executive officer Bruce Milligan said every year in Queensland about 90 people sustained spinal cord injuries - quadriplegia or paraplegia - from trauma or disease.

"The most common cause of spinal cord injuries is road trauma - car, motorbike and pedestrian accidents," he said.

"Falls and crushes are the second major cause, for example, falling off roofs or being crushed by a piece of machinery at a worksite, and the third major cause is water-related accidents, such as diving into shallow water without checking its depth.

"However, as Lyn's experience shows, spinal cord injuries can also be a result of medical reasons that unfortunately just aren't preventable."

Mr Milligan said the spinal cord was the width of a pinkie finger and had the consistency of a banana and once damaged in any way, it was impossible to regenerate the millions and millions of nerves that keep the cord functioning.

"At the moment there is no cure for a spinal cord injury so prevention really is paramount," he said. "When you consider that the lifetime cost of having quadriplegia is $9.5 million and paraplegia is $5 million [Access Economics, 2009], then you realise a spinal cord injury is not only an enormous physical challenge but financially tough too."

Since 1960, the Spinal Injuries Association has empowered and supported its members to live as independently as possible.

For more information, visit spinal.com.au.

Topics:  disability paraplegic spinal injuries association

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