Having spent the past 12 months in and out of ACT health facilities, former New Zealand cricket star Chris Cairns is now the Canberra Hospital Foundation’s biggest advocate.
It was an ordinary day, just over 12 months ago, when Chris dropped his wife Mel at work and their two young children at school. An hour later he felt “hazy” and doesn’t recall being rushed to Canberra Hospital where he received two life-saving surgeries for an aortic dissection – a tear in his main artery.
Chris’s vital organs began to fail and he was flown to St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney for treatment, where he suffered a spinal stroke which left him paralysed from the waist down.
He described himself as “a functioning time bomb” and said he was lucky to be alive today thanks to the initial life-saving treatment he received at Canberra Hospital.
Following another two heart surgeries and cardiopulmonary bypass procedure in Sydney, Chris returned to Canberra where he began his arduous rehabilitation journey closer to home.
For the first three months he couldn’t get out of bed on his own. During an assisted trip to the bathroom in January, nurses noticed blood in his stool and a test revealed another huge blow – Chris had developed bowel cancer.
After this illness trifecta from hell, Chris is coming to the end of his chemotherapy treatment and learning to walk again with the aid of a state-of-the-art Keeogo robotic exoskeleton being trialled at the University of Canberra Hospital (UCH).
Chris can’t speak highly enough of the nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists who have assisted him along his bumpy path to recovery. That’s why he’s thrown his support behind this year’s Canberra Hospital Foundation Can Give Day fundraiser.
The 24-hour fundraising sprint on Friday, 21 October aims to reach a cumulative total of $1 million, having raised $620,000 over the previous two years. Funds raised support Canberra Health Services’ delivery of exceptional patient care in the ACT and surrounding regions.
Can Give Day helps buy medical equipment and supports clinical trials, medical research, and therapeutic and supportive programs across all facilities run by Canberra Health Services. Every donation will be matched by the foundation’s corporate sponsors.
Chris says Can Give Day is a great way to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of Canberra Health Services’ teams, particularly his new “family” in the university rehabilitation hospital.
“They love coming to work and they’re very passionate about what they do – and their patients,” he says.
“After an experience like mine, you can have down times and mood swings, and there’s that realisation life is going to be very different.
“They’re dealing constantly with people coming to terms with their new life.”
Chris spent months living in the UCH Stromlo Ward where he had all-day access to physiotherapists and equipment to work on neural regeneration. And he’s been “blown away” by the team of robotics specialists trialling ground-breaking medical equipment at the university.
Chris has also been supported by the outpatients team in the Brindabella Ward and has recently been discharged to continue his recovery at home.
“I don’t know if I’m ever going to walk again,” he says. “But that’s obviously the goal. It’s just one of the things you have to keep working at and see what regenerates.
“This is a marathon, it’s certainly not a sprint. You’ve just got to get up each day and make the most of it.”
Chris says many Canberrans don’t realise the “incredible” medical facilities and staff they have in their own backyard.
“The professionals at Canberra Hospital are fantastic, and having the rehab facility at UCH meant I didn’t have to stay in Sydney and could be closer to my family and friends,” he says.
“Accessibility is so important living in a place like this. You never think it’s going to happen to you, but when something did, the system really came through for us when we needed it.”
You can help the Canberra Hospital Foundation by making a donation online, organising a Can Give Day fundraiser, supporting the Big Wig Challenge or by buying tickets for the Hospital Road Street Party.