Paraplegia – Coming back from the brink

john wasiliev

What John Wasiliev, AFR SMSF columnist, learnt from having to rebuild his life

by John Wasiliev  28 Nov 2015  Australian Financial ReviewWhen you’ve suffered major trauma, the road to recovery can be long and expensive. Having the financial flexibility of retirement savings can make a huge difference.

AFR columnist John Wasiliev has found superannuation savings can play an important role in recovering from ill health. Louise Kennerley

On May 19 this year, my life underwent a dramatic change when a catastrophic motor vehicle accident left me a paraplegic, with no body movement below my upper chest.

The medical and rehabilitation process is going to be a long journey, involving not only huge emotional and physical change but practical adjustments that will incur considerable cost. Many of these challenges have one thing in common: they can require some financial flexibility to finance them, which is where I have found having superannuation savings can play an important role.

In New South Wales, victims of motor vehicle accidents, like myself, can call on the state’s Lifetime Care and Support Scheme for assistance. This scheme is funded by a levy on NSW green slips or compulsory third-party insurance. NSW also runs a similar scheme for the Australian Capital Territory.

While the schemes pay for many of the necessary and expensive medical treatments, rehabilitation and care services that are needed by those incapacitated by catastrophic motor vehicle accidents, having some savings or access to insurance benefits in addition to any help you may get from official schemes can be very important.

It is particularly relevant where something you want may not be regarded as a necessary requirement by a scheme.

Among the hundreds of emails of support I received from readers was one who reported his misfortune in coming down with a form of Parkinson’s disease. It has affected his ability to climb stairs, which was unsatisfactory for someone whose retirement home was on multiple levels. Fortunately, having sufficient super is allowing him to finance the installation of an $80,000 lift between levels that will make his life a lot easier.After my accident I initially spent 10 days in the intensive care unit of Sydney’s Royal North Shore Hospital. Firstly fears my heart had been irreparably damaged by the accident needed to be allayed before my chest that had been crushed beneath the rear axle of a car could be repaired. For a while, like many seriously injured car accident victims, it was a matter of life and death.


From there I moved to the acute rehabilitation ward, where I learned what it was like to have a serious spinal injury

A fractured right shoulder blade limited my rehabilitation for the next six weeks, especially the focus on building up my upper body to allow me to use what strength I had there. At the end of July, I was moved to the spinal rehabilitation unit at Prince of Wales Hospital in the Sydney suburb of Randwick where I will be until mid-December when I am due to be discharged to go home.

Being in hospital as a paraplegic is more than just learning to drive a wheelchair or attempting to use your limited body strength using only your hands and arms to lift the dead weight that is the rest of your body below your armpits. It also involves being medically monitored while specialist spinal doctors find the appropriate combinations of drugs to treat such problems as pain, spasms and infections that are common in spinal patients.

There are also the psychological adjustments that start with the initial catastrophic realisation of your situation before moving on to readjusting your life goals, potential and the life circumstances that being a paraplegic allow you.

You need to change your approach to life to that of a “glass half-full” by actively rejecting the “glass half-empty” alternative.

As my time in hospital draws to a close, a major insight I have gained is the experience of being a full-time patient which will have lasted seven months by the time I return home.


What it’s like to be a hospital patient day and night for such a time is an experience like no other. It involves becoming aware that major Australian hospitals rely heavily on a combination of dedicated staff (many of whom are overworked) as well as significant proportions of casual employees with sharply varying skills, as the struggling health system seeks to save money on labour costs and other major expenses.

It’s a fact that most negative health care experiences I have encountered during my time in hospital have almost always involved untrained casual employees or faulty equipment. These are major flaws in the Australian health system experienced first-hand.

While I have no experience that supports this other than anecdotal comments from nurses who work in them, these are also believed to be some of the major problems that occur in nursing homes in this country.While being a paraplegic has its physical downsides, the positives include normal arm and hand functions which are essential for anyone wishing to continue a career as a columnist writing about retirement and superannuation. Also essential is the mental capacity as well as the desire to continue working. Getting back to work has always been an integral part of my rehabilitation. The road to rehabilitation involves many things.

While manual and motorised wheelchairs can provide mobility, it is also possible to drive a modified car as well as various other challenges that lie ahead. Having some financial resources from super can be important in this instance. While a scheme like Lifetime Care will modify a vehicle for a disabled driver, the aspiring driver must first have the personal financial resources of,say, $50,000 to buy a suitable vehicle.

In a spinal ward there are also many patients who are not motor vehicle accident victims. Similarly, in the community there are many people who become infirm for various reasons (many of them medical), who find that having super savings can be a major benefit.

To all those who sent me best wishes, I thank you very much for your kind thoughts and look forward to resuming my relationship with you. Please feel free to send me any comments and ideas and questions to

Original article here

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