In this day and age if you haven’t got a disability you’re not even cool!

Reimagining what a spinal unit could look like.

Grant Sharman was the first patient at the Auckland Spinal rehabilitation unit in Otara in 1977 following a life changing game of rugby at the age of 15.

“A ruck formed, they dived in and I broke my neck. I went from wanting to be a pilot in the air force to having no idea what I could do.

Grant spent 11 years at the rehabilitation unit learning how to live again, and now with Health Minister Andrew Little’s announcement of $110 million in funding for a new purpose-built Spinal Rehabilitation Unit to be housed at the Manukau Health Park, Grant's vision for what the future holds has been unleashed. 

“We can do great things. I'm thinking public private partnerships, I’m making phone calls, they [the government] have no idea what they've unleashed. 

“The potential is huge, South Auckland is this massive repository for talent and culture and there’s so much we can do. Seed funding is just that, seed funds: things grow.”

In practical terms, Grant says that the more inclusive and the more community-minded the recovery process the bigger difference it can make to the patient’s physical and mental well-being.

“The environment makes such a difference when you land in a spinal unit. Your life is turned upside down and you need a place where you can still interact, you can still do the shops, you can still go to cafés, you can still talk to people.

“I remember in 1995 when we went to the first world champs for wheelchair rugby in Switzerland I couldn’t get over the spinal unit there – it was like a community hub.

“They had a café and a bar there, and was thinking, wow, we don’t have this in Otara! It was just so different; it was part of the community.”

Grant is adamant that having something similar here can give more than hope, it can literally change people’s lives.

“Yes, when you have your injury there are a number of things you can’t do, but in this day and age if you haven’t got a disability you’re not even cool so there’s no reason for people like me to be a lemon watching soap opera TV all day.

“I remember lying on that field just after I’d had my injury, and if someone told me I’d be flying round the world, representing my country, that I’d meet the Queen and have a thingy from her majesty, I’d say no way but I did it and this new unit can give opportunities and can sow the seeds of what people with spinal cord injuries can do.”

Grant Sharma original

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