Lola Fusitua: Left a tetraplegic after a terrible car accident

 Lola is now celebrating life, here is her story….

“You were in a car crash” the doctor explained when he was satisfied my brain was in working order. “With the aid of a wheelchair we can train you to lead a normal life” he continued. I looked at my two daughters who had survived unharmed; maybe life is worth living after all I thought to myself feeling humble and relieved. Then my rehabilitation journey began and after five months I was able to go home; over time though the joy of being home faded. I certainly had more mobility than I originally thought but I was still restricted. I tried to keep my brain active by reading but more and more often I found myself thinking about the accident. I started to get upset. My depression worsened over the next two years and I was in a sea of gloom.

Then, one day I was given something that sparked my curiosity. It was a computer programme and when I spoke into a microphone the computer could act as a kind of secretary for me. This gave me an idea.”I might see if I can do some study” I announced to my family. Cool Mum my girls said. Not everyone was as enthusiastic. When I told my husband he just laughed and said “you are too old” and “you don’t have the qualifications – you were working in a factory before the accident!” His pessimism had the opposite effect on me and I felt more determined. With the help of my new computer I applied for and got accepted into the Open Polytechnic to do a Bachelor of Business and Accounting via correspondence. It was hard work and very tiring at times but twenty papers, five years later and a serious strain on my voice box I emerged from a rubble of accounting books victorious. I was a graduate!

After a break I decided to do my Masters degree in Business at AUT. My final assignment was 33,000 word dissertation. Just speaking 33,000 words is a battle in itself. Then I lost my voice and the frustration I felt was the most intense feeling. The microphone could not pick up my whisper so I had to have help transcribing my hoarse voice for me. Home life was difficult too as that same year I separated and divorced my husband. Still I ploughed on and my determination was pure steel. Finally it all proved worthwhile as my name “Lola Fusitu’a boomed over the microphone.”Masters in Business with Honours” As I crossed the stage to collect my diploma ,I felt like I was a helium balloon so inflated with happiness that I could just fly off. That moment will always be the most exciting moment of my life. That I could make it against all odds, meant the world to me.


Carolyn… Sustaining a spinal cord impairment has a profound impact on many areas of your life, work and career being one of them.  Work has always been an important part of my life and for as long as I can remember; I wanted to be a vet.  Five years of study then three years experience in a NZ practice took me to the UK on my OE.  I ended up staying there for 5 years working in a great small animal veterinary clinic – something I was doing when I had a horse riding accident and fractured C5 to give me C5/6 incomplete tetraplegia. The first few days after my injury I was just thankful to be alive & I wasn’t thinking too deeply about what I was going to do for work when I had a chance visit from my first employer in NZ, who just happened to be travelling to London. His words were “If you come back to NZ don’t you worry about work. Whatever your physical capabilities, we’ll have a job for you.  It’s your mind that makes you the vet that you are, not your hands or body”.  Those few sentences really lifted my spirits and made my hope and focus regarding return to work much stronger. After six months of rehabilitation in Stoke Mandeville in the UK, I returned to NZ and five months at the Burwood Spinal Unit. My aim was still to get back to clinical veterinary practice although fatigue, medication, spasm, limited hand function and pain did seem to make that goal a rather tricky one at that stage.  It was great to have the advice from Mel at Kaleidoscope and together we explored options for me to keep up to speed with both veterinary knowledge, via courses and alternative funding for study, but also other career options. It was around this time that Mel alerted me to a great opportunity that had arisen working with the Burwood Academy of Independent Living.  They were involved in a research study looking at the first 2 years around a person’s spinal cord impairment.  They needed a research assistant and this was a subject very close to home (!) and something I felt I could contribute to, as well as enjoy.  It was ideal as being part time, flexible and mostly done from home; I could work it around my ongoing heavy programme of rehabilitation.  I found that the skills I had acquired as a vet (such as communication and personal relations) were really useful in this totally different role, something I didn’t really expect.  It definitely showed me that there were many more jobs potentially available to me than what I may have initially thought about.  18mths on and I am still working on the project and I’m now considering doing some postgraduate study in research/rehabilitation.  There may even be the opportunity for a masters or PhD project. In Jan 2010 I also started a job with Hills Pet Nutrition doing a nutritional advisory role for clients who have their animals started on a prescription diet.  This is great as it is back in the veterinary world, and I’m enjoying using some of my ‘vet brain’ again.  I’ve discovered that with an open mind there’s more than enough other options available to keep me employed, empowered, interested and giving myself some financial independence. 








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