After a swimming pool accident, Rhiannon Tracey was told she’d never walk again. Now, seven years later, she can walk up to 500 metres at a time on crutches. Here, she shares her story (as told to Kahla Preston).
I was 20 and on holiday in Bali when I had my accident. My mum and I would go to Bali every year for our girls’ trip, and this visit was meant to be really special because my best friend had come with us and she’d never been before. We were actually celebrating her birthday the night my injury happened; obviously the world works in wonderful ways.
I dove into a resort swimming pool that was labelled ‘deep’, but the sides of the pool were shallow. I hit my head on the bottom with a very hard thud, and remember thinking, ‘Crap, what have I done?’ Somehow, I stayed fully conscious. I must have a bloody hard head.
I was face-down in the water and realised pretty quickly that I couldn’t move, but within a few minutes my friend realised something was wrong and pulled me out. My mum had gone back to our resort at this stage, and she had to receive the phone call any parent would dread.
I was put into the back of a van, which was considered an ambulance in Bali, and taken to hospital. A CT scan confirmed that I had broken my neck and back, which rendered me a quadriplegic instantly.
Doctors told us I needed emergency surgery immediately. There wasn’t enough time to fly me out to another country because the fragments of the broken vertebra were piercing both sides of my spinal cord, which could completely sever it. If that had been the case I would’ve died.
Rhiannon and her mum in Bali before the accident. (Image supplied)
I was moved over to the main hospital in Denpasar to have the surgery, but while we were waiting in the trauma centre Bali had one of their biggest earthquakes ever. The hospital was falling to pieces around us and everyone got up and ran out. I was convinced I was going to die; I even said to my mum, "This is it, we're goners."
My 'emergency' surgery ended up happening about nine hours later. I spent almost three weeks in hospital and my conditioned worsened every day. I had travel insurance, thank God, but by the time the company flew the doctor and the nurse over to bring me back to Australia my family were already saying their goodbyes.
The doctor and nurse took one look at me and went into panic mode. It turns out both of my lungs had collapsed because they were full of pool water and hadn't been drained properly during my surgery. I was totally bed-bound and paralysed with pressure sores all over my body and blood clots in both my legs. My body was shutting down from all kinds of viruses from the hospital.
Eventually I was well enough to be sent home, but as I was being put onto the air ambulance one of the local doctors gave me an injection that it turned out I was allergic to, and I went into anaphylaxis. Honestly, I think my whole hospital experience in Bali was more traumatic than the actual injury.