Rhiannon Tracey: “I simply refused to accept this prognosis”

After being told she would never walk again, Rhiannon Tracey refused to let her spinal condition get in the way of leading a fulfilling life and went on to defy the medical diagnosis.

On September 18, 2009, Rhiannon Tracey’s life changed forever.

At the time she was a tenacious 20-year-old veterinary nursing student with the world at her feet when a freak accident left her with a serious spinal injury.

“I was enjoying a trip in Bali with my Mum and best friend when I decided to dive into our hotel’s swimming pool, which was too shallow,” Rhiannon, now 31, says.

“I instantly broke my neck and back, and was rushed to hospital.”

Rhiannon’s injuries were so severe that being airlifted back to Australia was not an option and, to make matters worse, her emergency surgery was delayed by nine hours after a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck Indonesia.

After spending two weeks in Indonesian hospitals, she was finally flown home before being placed in an induced coma for further spinal surgery.

“That’s when I was diagnosed a C-5 quadriplegic,” Rhiannon says.

“To be told I’d never walk again, and to spend my 21st birthday in hospital, was incredibly tough. I’m an independent person to my very core and simply refused to accept this prognosis, so seven months of rehabilitation followed where I basically had to retrain myself to do everything.”

A step toward a better future

Eleven years on, Rhiannon is able to walk short distances with crutches, indulge in her passion for horse riding and can drive her beloved, albeit modified, Kia Sportage.

“Being able to walk again doesn’t happen for everyone, but I really do think it came down to me not accepting the negative outcomes that can potentially come with my injury, and instead, I learnt to adjust,” says Rhiannon, who hails from Melbourne.

“That was one of the hardest things about the recovery in hospital to be honest; a lack of hope. I was constantly told that I was never going to walk, and while I understand staff have to be pragmatic, that kind of language is never going to encourage the best medical outcome.”

View this post on Instagram

I’m not a regular #dogmum, I’m a cool dog mum! I get asked all the time how I have so many pets.. and well the short answer is.. their love is unconditional and they are the best therapy! K that wasn’t that short 🤣 If you’re in isolation, can I get an amen?! And if your a single gal riding through life solo can I get a “the more boys I meet the more I love my dog?!” Riiiggghhhttt 🙌🏻 But in all seriousness, today was pretty special because for the first time since my injury (almost 11 years ago), I was able to walk my dogs with my mum. I had no idea how this would be possible as mastering the art of pushing a wheelchair while holding a dog lead was impossible, but my darling friend @lennyakiredrose introduced me to these awesome dog leads that clip around your waist! They’re actually made for runners but why stroll when you can roll right?! For all my wheelie friends that are struggling trying to work this dog walking sitch out, I got you! #notsponsored #justthinktheseleadsareepic #willneverstoppostingdogpicscozmydogsarecuteaf

A post shared by RHIANNON TRACEY (@rhiannontraceymywheellife) on

Now a motivational speaker and Liptember ambassador, Rhiannon uses her platform to connect with people experiencing all kinds of setbacks, including those in similar situations to her own.

“Together with my Mum, I’ve founded a not-for-profit organisation called The Next Step and The Next Step Spinal Cord Recovery Centre, which I’m really proud of,” she says.

The recovery centre offers programs such as exercise physiology and hydrotherapy, and aims to help those affected by spinal cord injuries and other medical conditions lead a more independent lifestyle.

Reflecting on the years since her injury, Rhiannon continues to bounce back from whatever challenges life throws at her.

“Like everyone experiencing the global pandemic, this year’s been particularly tough, so I’m glad that my involvement with Liptember connects me with other women experiencing difficult mental health periods,” she says.

“It’s a great support network.”

Liptember is a campaign that raises funds for women’s mental health. Funds raised during the month of September are donated to various mental health benefactors to fund national mental health outcomes.

Take part in Liptember and wear a brightly coloured lipstick to show your support. You can buy a Liptember lipstick or the 2020 Liptember box from any participating Chemist Warehouse store.

Written by Charlotte Brundrett. Photo credit: Amy Hibbard