John was born in Griffith 58 years ago and the area has been his home ever since. His parents had come out from Verona, Italy as teenagers. His dad worked as a truck-driver then bought a citrus farm. After school John did a motor mechanic apprenticeship then worked as a mechanic for nine years but knew he didn’t want to do that all his life. He then worked in various occupations including a bar and slaughterhouse. His dad helped him to buy a citrus farm like his.
He married Yvette when he was 24 and they have two children, Brooke and Blake. About 15 years ago John started driving gas tankers doing daily trips around the Central West so he could look after the farm and maintain family life with his young children. He enjoyed the work.
Accident in the fog
In 2012, on the Lake Cargelligo to Condobolin road in a heavy mid-winter fog, John missed a reduce-speed sign. “I went straight through a t-intersection, over an embankment, hit my head and broke my neck.” He was taken first to Orange Base Hospital who were going to send him home on the second day, not realising his neck was broken. He then went to Royal North Shore then finally to rehab at Prince of Wales for two and a half months, where he says staff there were just fantastic.
Adjusting to new life
"I’d been an active, outgoing person, and here I was having to drink coffee through a straw, being washed and crane-lifted everywhere. And the accident had come only a few weeks after I'd lost my dad to cancer. So, it was a hard time, I really felt I didn’t want to be alive. But Yvette was there 24/7, living out of a suitcase near the hospital, so that was very hard for her too – with a six- and eight-year-old at home. My niece moved in to help."
When he came home, John had permanent screws between the C3 and C5 vertebrae in his neck. It wasn’t easy for him as he still needed help with basic tasks like getting dressed.
Returning to work
"I was off work for almost a year. I went back to driving but was only doing one day a week then slowly built up to full time. But I'm restricted in what I can lift, so about three years ago I moved to courier work. I do about three hours a day, and the rest of time I work on the farm – spraying, watering, organising the pickers for the oranges. It’s not that hard to manage."
Nothing to complain about
"It's still difficult for me to use my fingers for detailed movements like doing up buttons and I still can't bend my neck back. I've still got pain in my right shoulder and hips, but it's not major. If I drop things I tend to kick them around before picking them up. At least I don't need drugs for the pain any more."
"But after what I went through in hospital, I can't complain at where I'm at now. I can still drive. I can still work. And all four of us flew up to Cairns for a holiday earlier this year."
"Lifetime Care has been fantastic. They've organised all the modifications I need, like rails, and locks and handles that I can manage with my fingers. I can't really complain about anything."
John is a Lifetime Care participant. The Lifetime Care and Support Scheme pays for treatment, rehabilitation and care for people who have been severely injured in a motor accident in NSW.