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Quadriplegic farmer walks again after miracle recovery

9News.com.au logo 9News.com.au 21/05/2018 Gabriella Rogers

A combination of luck, sheer determination and targeted therapy has helped a father of five walk again after a farming accident left him a quadraplegic.

Michael Gray, 55, has spent half his life protecting life and property as a rural firefighter in Yass in southern New South Wales.

He has fought many fires and helped rescue victims in hundreds of car crashes in his district.

a group of people looking at a cell phone: Michael Gray is able to walk again after he was rendered a quadriplegic last December. © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd Michael Gray is able to walk again after he was rendered a quadriplegic last December.

So when the RFS group captain damaged his spine last December, after his farm buggy crashed into a gully, he instantly knew what was ahead of him.

"I know enough about spinal injury accidents with car accidents to know that I was in a really bad way," said Mr Gray.

Mr Gray spent three hours motionless in the paddock in the summer heat before his wife and daughter discovered him.

Mr Gray was injured when his farm buggy crashed into a gully. © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd Mr Gray was injured when his farm buggy crashed into a gully.

"I couldn't move anything I was totally paralysed from the neck down," he said.

"I had to put up with things like meat ants, eating the back of my neck. I had to eat them when they got onto my lips because I didn't want them to eat my eyes and my lips," he said.

One of his sons marshaled a rescue chopper to the property and Mr Gray was taken to Sydney for surgery.

a man sitting in a box: When he was found several hours later, he was taken to Prince of Wales Hospital. © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd When he was found several hours later, he was taken to Prince of Wales Hospital.

Coincidentally, the week before the 55-year-old had been teaching 20 students how to marshal rescue helicopters in difficult terrain.

When Mr Gray arrived in hospital he was severely sunburned and his family was given the devastating prognosis.

"The surgeon had advised us that it was unlikely he would walk again," said his daughter Isabel.

a man holding a sign: Mr Gray is a Rural Fire Service group captain. © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd Mr Gray is a Rural Fire Service group captain.

Mr Gray was determined to move again and over five months he endured painful and intensive therapy at the spinal injury unit at Prince of Wales Hospital.

Michael's saving grace was that some nerve fibres in his spinal cord were spared from complete injury, giving him more options for recovery.

"That's absolutely crucial to the fact that Michael had the potential to recover," said Dr Bonne Lee, Staff Specialist of the hospital's Spinal Medicine Unit.

a man standing in front of a store: Mr Gray thanked the spinal injury specialists at Prince of Wales for his miracle recovery. © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd Mr Gray thanked the spinal injury specialists at Prince of Wales for his miracle recovery.

"Even though he didn't have any active movement at all.

"In Michael's case we felt that given the nature of the injury that he had, that he could focus on getting key muscles back with the assistance of a therapist and his family."

Dr Lee also said starting rehabilitation quickly, even while the patient is in intensive care, was another important step in recovery.

Michael's family made many three-hour trips between Yass and Sydney to help with his rehabilitation.

a person standing posing for the camera: Mr Gray's family made numerous trips from Yass to Sydney during his rehabilitation. © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd Mr Gray's family made numerous trips from Yass to Sydney during his rehabilitation.

"My family's been amazing, they've never left my side," said Mr Gray.

On the day of his discharge, Mr Gray broke down in tears as he hugged the physiotherapists and farewelled hospital staff.

He acknowledges how lucky he is to walk out of hospital unassisted, even though the injury has changed his life.

"Not everyone is as lucky as me, not everyone recovers, they don't get the feeling back, you can only work with what you've got," he said.

"But I'm massively grateful to all the team here at Prince of Wales.

"Because without them, I wouldn't be walking out. There's no ifs or buts."

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