Living proof of determination

GOING HOME: Brett Jukes with his girlfriend Ebony, left, and Kerang District Health director of clinical services, Chloe Keogh.

GOING HOME: Brett Jukes with his girlfriend Ebony, left, and Kerang District Health director of clinical services, Chloe Keogh.

BRETT Jukes considers himself more fortunate than many others.

The 23-year-old cannot breathe without assistance and he had to learn to talk and eat food after devastating injuries in an unfortunate vehicle collision.

He counts himself lucky that he still has Ebony, his devoted girlfriend, and a supportive family network.

The young Barham district former fitter and machinist also has a professional support team at Kerang District Health preparing him for his return home.

Mr Jukes is paralysed from the jaw down and can only propel his electric wheelchair with his mouth.

He was driving along a gravel road near Wakool on the night of March 11 this year with his girlfriend as a passenger and they were rounding a bend when the vehicle inexplicably left the road and overturned.

Mr Jukes says that drugs or alcohol were not factors and a broken steering mechanism has been determined as the cause.

Despite wearing a seatbelt, the impact flung him through the side window and he ended up on the ground more than 20 metres away, suffering life-threatening injuries.

He owes his life to Ebony's quick-thinking action. She crawled out of the wreckage and searched for him.

"When I found him, he was unresponsive, so I started CPR," she said.

Ebony, a child-carer worker, located his mobile telephone, made an emergency call and continued performing cardio-pulmonary resuscitation for about 20 minutes until an ambulance arrived.

"I am living, breathing proof that it [CPR] works," he said.

He has no recollection of the accident.

Mr Jukes' inspiring story of positivity in the wake of a devastating tragedy move some people to tears when he candidly told his story at the Kerang District Health annual general meeting.

He was conveyed by ambulance to hospital at Deniliquin and later air-lifted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital suffering from cervical spinal injuries, a fractured leg and fractured collarbone.

Doctors confirmed that two vertebrae in his neck had caused quadriplegia, but worse was to come when he suffered a stroke while in hospital, reclassifying him as a C-1 quadriplegic, meaning that he had no function below the jaw.

He cannot breath without assistance and was told that he would never be able to speak or eat food normally.

Determination and a supportive family has meant that he has achieved both.

Mr Jukes was in a rehabilitation ward in Melbourne for nearly eight months where he was taught to eat and talk.

"They told me I'd never would, but I can talk fluently," he said.

He progressed from a gastric tube to solid food, which was "a huge thing for me", praising medical staff as "amazing."

Mr Jukes said that when "bad news" was delivered, he was asked if he wanted to continue treatment.

"No way were they going to turn it off. I'm better off to live," he said.

"I was there (in rehabilitation) with people who didn't have the same support as me.

"They're still there."

Before he could be transferred closer to home, Kerang District Health director of clinical services, Chloe Keogh convinced rehabilitation personnel that Kerang had the staff and capabilities to support his transitional care in preparation for him returning home.

Mr Jukes said that Mrs Keogh and local general practitioner, Dr Harry Van Rensburg never hesitated to take up the challenge.

"They've never given up on me," he said.

"The staff here have been awesome, the facilities and food are amazing.

"It's been a long trip for me and they've all helped."

Mr Jukes is learning to use an eye-activated computer and says he has some business ideas. 

Hospital staff have been assisting his personal care attenders and family members provide the transitional care to enable him to go home before Christmas.

That's the best gift he's asking for after his life-changing year.

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