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Optimism triumphs over the bleakness

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KIM RUSSELL, 46, has lived more than half her life with a spinal cord injury. She thinks the words “false” and “hope” don’t belong in the same sentence: “You’ve got to have hope that tomorrow’s going to be a better day,” she insists.

She is perhaps one of the luckier ones. Married with two daughters – Juliet, 9, and Clare, 12, who have always known their mother in a wheelchair – she still drives from the family home in Avalon to work three days a week as a children’s speech pathologist.

She didn’t always feel so lucky. In mid-spring 1983, aged 21, Russell was living in Albury; she had graduated from university and left home less than a year earlier. Driving on the Hume Highway, she took a break and gave her passenger a turn at the wheel.

There was a little rain. The woman – whom Russell barely knew – ploughed into the back of another car, but wasn’t seriously injured. Russell, however, could not feel her legs in the wreckage.

She spent seven months in hospital – four months in traction looking at the ceiling – and began many years of grieving that she might never walk.

The outlook for people with spinal cord injury was bleak then, she says. She has only ever been invited to take part in studies of physical exercise – which she emphasises is important – but would also be very interested in enrolling in clinical trials on new therapies to regrow nerves.

“You look at people who can walk, and think, ‘You have no idea,”‘ she says. “It’s so easy to get up and go and walk wherever you want, whenever you want.

“I’m sure I look at people a lot different. You become more of an observer. You have to have an extremely strong network of family first, and then good friends.”

Steve Dow

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