A new direction

By Dom Freestone, 29 May 2017 , Comments

Looking at my early life is a reductive exercise for this blog, so I will start my story the day my life, like so many others, started a new. I was a 23-year-old Ground Support Equipment Fitting Engineer with the Royal Australian Air Force and I prided myself on my physicality. It was a hot summer’s day, and like so many other insignificant hot summer days prior to this one, my friends and I had decided to spend the day swimming in the cooling waters of the Hume Weir Dam. The light was slowly disappearing and we were getting ready to leave, I decided I would go for one more swim, in an attempt to wash off the sand that had built up all over me. I dove into the now gloomy water, but misjudged the depth, a mistake that I continue to pay for every day. I hit something, which I imagine could only have been a sand bar, the impact shattered my C5-C6 vertebra, sending splintered pieces of my spine into my spinal cord, leaving me a quadriplegic.

I spent the next week on life support and receive a spinal fusion at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne. The next year of my life was spent in hospitals and rehab facilities, learning the skills I would need for my new life; the physicality I had once prided myself on was now a distant memory, now I lack the strength to lift a fork to my mouth unaided. Slowly I got stronger and I felt like I was making real progress, before I knew it I was heading to Newcastle to start my new life.

In retrospect, I was delusional with what I expected my new life to be. I thought I’d come home to balloons and drunken parties, back to the way things were before. The reality was in stark contrast, an empty department of housing unit where I no longer had the support of the wonderful staff at Royal Rehab or the shoulders of my fellow spinal cord injured peeps. This next year was the hardest of my life and it took its toll on me; I fell quickly into depression and lost all direction for my life.

Then one day a good friend brought around a couple of canvases and acrylic paints, we put on some music and started to paint. The paint seemingly gave me purpose again, a reason to look forward to the next day. I don’t have the time to list every important factor in my recovery but painting certainly gave me a new creative direction.

I started volunteering at the local maritime centre, giving guided tours, even though I knew very little of the history of Newcastle. At about the same time I started a website, called freewheeler.com.au, this grabbed the attention of a local business; they approached me and offered me a job. I was still so unsure of my new self and was hesitant to take a job working side by side with abled-bodied people for an actual paycheck. I quickly learnt that I had skills that any work place would look for in an employee, I was good at my job and I wanted more. I felt ready to dream again, to find my purpose once again and with the support of some great people I started down the path I’m currently on.

I began studying a Bachelor of Visual Communication Design at the University of Newcastle, a quadriplegic studying to be a graphic designer. I have learnt so many new skills through my studies and I can now draw better that I ever could with the use of my hands. I truly believe that I can be a successful graphic designer but the programs and equipment needed to succeed are expensive. Support from the Spine Care Foundation, in the form of the Gregory and Dolores Farrell Scholarship, gave me access to the best equipment and software available, breaking down the financial barriers that would have otherwise slowed my progress. I will graduate this year, a quadriplegic graphic designer, and this is thanks in no small part to the people at the Spine Care Foundation.

 If you use a wheelchair for mobility and would like a Gregory and Dolores Farrell Scholarship to assist you to achieve your educational goals click here  to find out more.

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