By Margaret Maccoll
Cameron Toomey always looks at life in a good light.
During the recent Covid-19 restrictions while others may have resented being stuck at home Cameron saw it as an opportunity to have the whole family together.
For almost half his life the Noosaville resident has been restricted to a wheelchair, paralysed from the neck down.
In 1996, at the age of 25, life couldn’t have been more different. He was preparing to travel to the US with his team to represent Australia in lacrosse.
“For 15 years I played the sport I loved,” he said.
“Literally overnight my life turned upside down. I fell six metres headfirst.”
Cameron was going upstairs at his brother’s place when he walked past two friends who were “mucking around“. He remembers nothing of the accident but knows he flipped over the balustrade and died when he hit the ground.
Luckily a policeman friend who had just completed a CPR refresher course was there and kept him alive until paramedics arrived, rushed him to a hospital and put him on a ventilator.
“I’ve met a lot of people who have had accidents over the years,” he said.
“You can take two perspectives – you can say, poor me, or you can say, I’m lucky to survive.”
Cameron is grateful for a second chance at life, for meeting his wife Nicci, having a family and living a “reasonably normal life“.
He said having a loving family, a wonderful support network and his sport training helped him through his recovery.
“The strength I gained from defeats, injuries and disappointments enabled me to fight, draw on every positive moment,” he said.
Cameron said it took him about five years to come to terms with the reality that he was destined to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Once he accepted his fate he began to embrace a new, though very different life.
“I began to appreciate every moment, every slight movement and cherished the loved ones I was surrounded by and the moments we shared,” he said.
He met and married the love of his life, Nicci, who encouraged him to look past his disability and follow his dreams.
Cameron coached lacrosse despite being in a wheelchair and inspired others with disabilities.
“I’d talk to people in hospitals who had just had their accidents,” he said. “One time I went to a school. One of the kids had broken his neck. I talked to the kids to help them understand how to deal with that.”
The couple have twin daughters, Abbey and Lucy.
“When you have kids you have this presumption everything will be OK,” Cameron said.
The twins were born premature at 32 weeks and spent eight weeks in hospital.
When Abbey was three months old she was diagnosed with meningitis. She was in and out of hospital and had multiple surgeries over the next two years.
“She got blindness from one of the surgeries, then the seizures started,” he said.
“That was a whole new ball game having to deal with seizures.”
Abbey developed cerebral palsy from meningitis and is completely dependent, unable to walk, talk or speak, but she can laugh when she’s happy.
“And she’s very happy. She has an infectious laugh,” Cameron said.
Lucy has very low vision and an underdeveloped optic nerve. Now 16, she uses a cane to guide her.
“I have accepted them for who they are, although their abilities are very different, loving them is the same, and I could not imagine a life without them,” Cameron said.
“My wife is the only able-bodied one in the family,” Cameron said.
Since the family secured support from the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) 18 months ago having support for the family has been life-changing, Cameron said.
“The extra support has enabled me to look at ways to live more independently.
“The NDIS is there to support people to meet their goals. It enables me to get back into the community.
“Before I had to rely on my wife and worry who was cooking the dinner or picking up the kids,” he said.
When his wife was busy Cameron would often drive places on his own and call on the assistance of strangers.
“I’d park the car and wait for people walking past to help me,” he said. “I’d run into issues but nine out of 10 people are happy to help,” he said.
Both girls also get wonderful support from NDIS, Cameron said.
Technology has allowed Cameron to drive a car, ride a hand-cycle and convert his wheelchair into an electric wheelchair.
Cloud technology has provided an opportunity to work from home or be connected remotely.
Drawing on his experiences Cameron established Insite Digital, a business that delivers strategies and practical pathways using modern technology to enable independence for people living with disability.
Cameron and Nicci work with a small team to deliver their services to assist people with disability through e-consulting, assistive technology, e-mentoring and coaching.
They help their clients to remove barriers to physical and financial independence and identify ways to transform their lives at home and in the workplace. Through mentoring and coaching they guide clients toward defining their goals and developing practical steps to independence.
For more information visit https://www.insitedigital.com.au