Jamie Astwood, who was left a paraplegic after duneboarding in Northland.
A young woman left paralysed from the chest down after duneboarding in Northland 10 years ago says a remarkably positive attitude has seen her recover from a life-changing injury sustained as a child to live a full and independent life.
She had a simple motto to help with her recovery: ‘If you can’t stand up, stand out.’
Jamie Astwood will never forget January 19, 2013, when the then-10-year-old’s life changed forever.
Her family were travelling in Northland during the summer holidays when they visited Ahipara and got their boogie boards out to go duneboarding.
“I was always a daredevil child,” Astwood says.
“I was like: ‘Absolutely I’m doing this’. I went all the way to the top, despite my mum telling me not to.”
On her last run, Astwood hit a patch of grass at the bottom of the dunes and was thrown off her board.
“I remember thinking, ‘Should I roll off the boogie board or risk it?’. Everything flashed through my mind. I decided to stay on.”
Astwood hit the ground hard and at speed. She did two somersaults and landed in a heap.
“I had a crowd of people looking down on me. I was saying, ‘Mum, I can’t feel my legs, I can’t feel my legs’. I was scared about what that meant.”
Astwood had broken her back, which damaged her spinal cord, leaving her paralysed from the chest down – classified as a T4 paraplegic.
She was flown by helicopter to Auckland’s Starship Hospital, where she spent three weeks. She celebrated her 11th birthday there. She also underwent a surgical procedure where two large rods were inserted into her spine.
Astwood was later admitted to Wilson’s Centre – a rehabilitation centre for children – for two months.
“I had to start again. I had to learn how to live from a wheelchair. It was a really challenging time for me and my family.”
ACC has played a leading role in Astwood’s rehabilitation, covering all of her medical costs and some home modifications.
The government agency also paid for her mum Jo to be her primary caregiver during her recovery.
“As soon as the accident happened, they threw a team together with physios, occupational therapists, psychologists and a building team to support Jamie and our family,” Jo said.
“I don’t know how we would have done it without them.”
With her relentlessly positive attitude, Astwood has completed a remarkable recovery.
Ten years after her accident, she is working for the New Zealand Police in Hamilton as an administrator and is responsible for reviewing firearms applications.
“I just really rate her,” her supervisor Margaret Ferguson says.
“She never makes a big deal about her injury. She carries on and works hard and is always positive. There’s a lot more to come for Jamie with her career.
“She has helped the police and changed a lot of perceptions here [about] people who are living with a disability.”
Astwood bought a ski boat this summer and wants to build up to attempting sit-skiing.
She is also an ambassador for the CatWalk Research Trust. Early in her rehabilation, she met with founder Catriona Williams.
“She said to Jamie, ‘People don’t want to be around negative people. So, you have to be the positive one – if you can’t stand up, stand out,” says Jo.
“She’s kept that mindset and has always smiled. I mean sure, there’s been tears and upsets, but she has always bounced back to be positive.”
Duneboarding in Northland can be a dangerous activity, with a number of deaths and injuries over the years.
In February 2009, English tourist Thomas Donaldson died when he chose to sandboard down “Suicide Hill”, part of the sand dunes on the Hokianga Harbour, despite warnings to only slide between the flags.
And in February 2019, South Korean tourist Jin Chang Oh, 68, died when he was hit by a tour bus while duneboarding at Te Paki dunes.