Joe's Story: Spinal Rehabilitation

RDNS New Zealand
Image: Joe De Thierry has a new outlook on life

Joe De Thierry, 44, first met RDNS NZ relationships manager Rachelle when he was hospitalised with a C3-C4 spinal injury that resulted in incomplete tetraplegia, meaning he lost the ability to move his limbs.
“I injured my neck in 2015 and spent nearly three months in hospital,” he says.
“After I left there I went to the spinal unit and I was there for three months – I was improving week by week doing a lot of physio.”

It was when it came time to return home that Joe found he needed support as he navigated how to live independently again.

After some time looking for the right provider for longer term support, Joe turned to RDNS NZ and Rachelle, who had already worked with Joe during his stay in the spinal unit, co-ordinated his team.
“You just want people to be straight up and honest with you, and when I was interviewing care providers I found a lot of people just want to tell you what you want to hear,” Joe says.

“Rachelle is good because she’ll tell you it’s going to be hard, but I’ll be there. I asked ‘What happens if your staff don’t show up?’  She said ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be there – and she has always kept her word’.
“When you come home, you are a different person from before you were injured – you feel a bit alienated I suppose.

“Everything was challenging at first, but once you get used to a routine it just seems to work.”
Now, 18 months after his return home, Joe lives on his own and receives support from RDNS NZ three times a day – in the morning and afternoon, and overnight. He still does rehabilitation work at Auckland Spinal Unit, including cross-fit style adaptive training that supports his strength and fitness.

One of his most rewarding new roles has been as a mentor for younger spinal injury patients.
“One young teenager had come out of the spinal unit and was in a very bad place mentally – often you expect life to be the same and you’re not told you’ll have bad days.

“Now he trains with me a couple of days a week and is in a way better space mentally and physically.”
He also remains an active father for his sons, aged 25 and 18, and his daughter, 4.

“I’m actually in a lot happier place physically and mentally now than before my  injury - everything I did before I am doing now – I socialise, I train really hard, I watch movies, I spend time with my family – and I’m doing more. My support workers mean so much to me because I am here, being this strong, because they are supporting my journey.”

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