SMALL but significant steps of progress are keeping Mount Gambier man Gareth Flanagan positive in his long road to recovery after sustaining a near-fatal spinal injury while holidaying in South Africa.
Injured while diving into shallow waters while on a family holiday, Mr Flanagan was told he would remain paralysed from the neck down.
Almost three months after the devastating incident, Gareth’s mother Beverley said the family had renewed hope and were “praying” he would one day walk again.
“We have seen slight movement in his feet which is a great step forward,” Ms Flanagan said.
“He can now transfer himself into a wheelchair and is becoming more independent everyday.
“He is also able to take his own shower and some self-care practices which is amazing.”
Ms Flanagan said even slight progress was “huge” for a serious injury like Gareth’s.
“The progress with any spinal injury is slow but we have seen progress,” Ms Flanagan said.
“They are small steps but we are not going backwards.
“Mentally he is in a great space and is determined to walk again.”
Ms Flanagan said even if her son was never able to walk again, he would still live a fulfilled and independent life.
“He is still located in South Africa simply because there are not sufficient facilities here in Mount Gambier which cater for his needs,” she said.
“We are leaving him there for as long as we can.
“It also came down to the practicalities of a house, with it not being wheelchair friendly at the moment.”
Ms Flanagan said the injury has had a significant impact on the family.
“It is a challenge with him being so far away and it has created some financial strains with him only qualifying for a Newstart allowance,” she said, adding he did not qualify for further government subsidies.
“I have also had to close the family business because we were stuck in South Africa for quite sometime.
“Both Gareth and his partner Leisha also worked there so they are without a job as well.”
The former cafe owner said the family would eventually “find their feet” again and have learnt to adapt.
“At the moment he is our main focus and we want to get him home living as independently as possible,” Ms Flanagan said.
“The length of his recovery is all determined by the swelling in his spine.
“When the swelling goes down is when will hopefully see everything begin to move.”
Small challenges have stagnated Gareth’s progress, but Ms Flanagan said they had not slowed his positive spirit.
“He had a lung infection from pulmonary aspiration at the beginning and we did actually did not think he was going to make it,” she said.
“He was also going to go and do hydrotherapy this week but he has found out he has an infection.
“Sometimes it feels like two steps forward and five steps back but it has not always been the case.”
Ms Flanagan praised Gareth’s fiancée Leisha and the Galluccio family, along with the wider community for their ongoing support.
“Mount Gambier is such a wonderful place and you would not see the same support anywhere else,” she said.
“I think Gareth’s determination and strong-minded personality have helped him achieve the impossible.”
To help fast-track Gareth’s progress, a fundraising concert has been organised by a committee featuring Phil Argy, Maxine Tuffnell, Elzette Le Roux, Zena Reiner and Lyn McLachlan.
Ms Reiner said she was blown away by Gareth’s progress.
“The main aim of the fundraiser is to raise funds to help Gareth live more independently,” she said.
“We will be putting any money raised towards modifying his house and vehicle for when he comes home.
“Everyone’s support has been amazing and we are very grateful.”
Ms Reiner said the goal for the event was to raise anything over $5000 on the night.
Planned for August 3 from 6.30pm for a 7pm start, the Limestone Coast Pantry will be filled with entertainment from five bands and catering options available.
Tickets can be purchased from Gambier Real Estate for $15, or by contacting Zena Reiner on 0408478328