A reason to walk again: Peter's recovery from horrific accident

Peter's goal recovering from his accident was to walk his daughter, Kate, down the aisle at her wedding. Photos supplied
Peter's goal recovering from his accident was to walk his daughter, Kate, down the aisle at her wedding. Photos supplied

Peter Fotheringham had one goal after an accident left him with horrific injuries - walking his daughter Kate down the aisle at her wedding.

On Sunday October 12, 2020 - a date forever burned in Peter's memory - Peter left his home in Killawarra near Wingham on the NSW Mid North Coast to do some fencing at his 2100 acre property an hour away near Cooplacurripa. He told his wife, Jen, he would be home by 4-5pm that day.

After completing the fencing, Peter decided to do some regrowth control of bush. While felling trees, some hung up on each other and came down on top of and behind him.

He hit the ground, holding the chainsaw he had been using. Looking down at his legs, he saw one was broken at a right angle, and the other was "wiggly". Two broken legs, one of them in three places, weren't the worst of his injuries. He also suffered three broken vertebrae, all of his ribs were broken, and a punctured lung, none of which he knew of at the time.

He was pinned by trees on top of and behind him, and had no way of calling for help. His phone was in his truck, however there was no phone service at the site anyway. The closest signal was half an hours' drive by 4WD up the mountain. Stuck in a sitting position and despite his injuries, he started sawing through logs to try and free himself as much as he could.

Peter was trapped and alone. He was not found until midnight.

"At one stage I just wanted to lay down and die. The whole time I sat there with my arms out behind me sitting up. I couldn't go forward onto my legs, even though I tried, and I couldn't go any further back because this log was right at my tailbone, and I didn't know I had broken vertebrae. I didn't even know I had broken ribs, I think," Peter said.

"I was praying to them all (gods), I don't care what religion you're from. I was more than willing to go to anyone for help at that point in time."

When Peter hadn't made it home by 8pm, a very worried Jen called Trevor Murray from Charity Creek, who knew the country near Cooplacurripa.

It took some searching as the grass was bonnet-high and it is a big property. In the meantime, Peter could see Trevor's headlights coming closer, and then going away again. Peter couldn't call out because of his punctured lung and broken ribs. Eventually, Trevor found him.

Thankfully Trevor had brought plenty of blankets and some water with him to keep Peter warm and hydrated while they waited for emergency services to turn up. The Westpac Rescue Helicopter was the first to arrive, with the ambulance, the SES, Wingham Fire and Rescue, and the police following.

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Paramedics spent an hour stabilising Peter before he could but put onboard the chopper, as his lung filled with fluid after being laid down on the spinal board.

The chopper took him to Tamworth as there were reports of fog at Newcastle. Peter was x-rayed, and after the full extent of his injuries was known, was finally flown down to John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle at 11am the next day.

There, he was put into an induced coma for 10 days. He spent two weeks in ICU and a month in total at John Hunter. That was followed by a six week stay at the Mayo Hospital in Taree. He was discharged two days before Christmas.

One of his legs had to be repaired with steel rods and a plate. "I had bling everywhere," he said.

There were concerns at one stage that Peter would not be able to walk again, but he was determined.

From a walking frame, Peter went on to Canadian walking sticks, then graduating to one single walking stick.

Peter Fotheringham threw away his walking sticks two days before daughter Kate's wedding. Photo: supplied

Peter Fotheringham threw away his walking sticks two days before daughter Kate's wedding. Photo: supplied

"Two weeks before Kate's wedding I put the walking stick down and I haven't touched it since," Peter said.

A wedding gone viral

Kate's wedding is a big story in itself and made international news.

She was due to get married at St Matthews in Wingham on Saturday, March 19, the day the flooding started on the NSW Mid North Coast.

Although the Fotheringham's property is only a short drive from Wingham, they were cut off by Dingo Creek, which had completely inundated the flats on the property.

"Over 100 acres there all underwater. It was roaring. You could have floated the Queen Mary down there on how much water was there," Peter said.

Many phone calls ensued with the groom and the groomsman, both on the other side of the creek in Wingham with the bridesmaids, finally organising a helicopter from Affinity Helicopters from Port Macquarie to rescue Kate, her parents and her sister and sister's boyfriend and bring them to Wingham.

The photo of Kate in her wedding dress on the flooded road has gone viral.

GOING VIRAL: The photo Kate Bell shared on Twitter on Monday, which sent the social media platform into overdrive. Photo: AMANDA HIBBARD

GOING VIRAL: The photo Kate Bell shared on Twitter on Monday, which sent the social media platform into overdrive. Photo: AMANDA HIBBARD

As frantic and as memorable as the wedding was made by the floods, it was Peter walking Kate down the aisle that was one of the most emotional moments of the occasion - it was a goal of Peter's since his accident, when he was told he might not be able to walk.

Peter was very emotional when recounting the walk down the aisle.

"There were a heap of wet eyes in the church," he said.

But not his.

"I kept it together," he laughed, through the tears.

Peter is still recovering from his injuries and undergoing regular physiotherapy. He is still having tingling in his feet, and feels this is from having an injured spinal cord. He has not yet been able to return to work at a travelling stock officer with the Local Land Services office at Wingham.

This story A reason to walk again: Peter's recovery from horrific accident first appeared on Manning River Times.