Janette MacLeod had ridden in the back of a ute before — in fact, she said it was fairly common for people in country areas.
But after an accident at a party, she is now living with quadriplegia.
MacLeod, known to her friends as Jannie, was just 20 years old and celebrating a friend’s birthday on a property in Gawler, in Tasmania’s Central Coast, when the accident occurred in May 2020.
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She described herself as being tipsy, but not drunk, when she climbed into the tray of a utility being driven by a friend to get from one bonfire to another.
Utility drivers in Tasmania must legally secure any load in their trays, or face penalties, but MacLeod said at the time she didn’t think about the dangers.
“I’d done it when I was younger as well … (but) I wouldn’t recommend it (now) even though it’s like a Tasmanian country thing to do,” she said.
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She was standing up, holding on to the back of the cabin, when she slipped and fell from the tray to the ground while the ute was navigating a hill.
“My friends thought I was laughing (after I fell). But I was struggling for air,” MacLeod, now aged 23, said.
“When they realised, they started resuscitating me.”
Janette MacLeod enjoyed socialising with friends before her spinal injury. Credit: Supplied
MacLeod said she was minutes away from dying.
Paramedics were initially given the wrong location of the property and, when they arrived, it took some time before they could access the area where she was.
They rushed her to hospital, where she was put into an induced coma.
When she woke, she was told she had broken her C2 vertebra impairing her diaphragm — meaning she needed a permanent ventilator because she could no longer breathe independently.
MacLeod spent 16 agonising months in hospital during COVID-19 visitor restrictions, feeling isolated and overwhelmed by the thought of what her life would now be like.
MacLeod was 20 years old when she fell from the tray of a utility. Credit: Supplied
Her family was already dealing with the sudden loss of MacLeod’s older brother from an unexpected health condition six months earlier.
She spent more than four months in rehabilitation re-learning how to do everyday things such as talking and eating, as well as learning to use her new powered wheelchair.
She said she was keeping her spirits up, thinking that, once she was discharged, her life could begin again in her hometown of Ulverstone.
“I got out of hospital and I remember I just cried all day because reality set in,” she said.
MacLeod required two carers to be with her at all times because of her limited mobility, so she had limited privacy and independence to do the things she loved.
As the rest of her social circle moved on with their lives, MacLeod fell into depression.
“I felt so alone and by myself and I shut myself off,” she said.
“One day I was sitting in my loungeroom and the thoughts I was thinking, I really scared myself.
“(But then I thought) what a waste feeling sad and sorry for myself. I didn’t survive this for no reason. I didn’t go through the pain I went through for no reason.”
MacLeod is hoping to buy a van to accommodate her wheelchair. Credit: Supplied
MacLeod is now looking at career opportunities in motivational speaking, hoping to warn others not to take risks in cars and to support people with disabilities who are struggling with mental health.
She recently spoke at an event in her local community and said there was “not a dry eye in the room”.
She also hopes to return to work in administration, like she did before her accident.
To help achieve her goals, MacLeod hopes to buy a Hyundai Staria van which can accommodate her wheelchair and will mean she no longer needs to rely on taxis.
She will pay the majority of the $58,000 costs herself, but has launched a GoFundMe to raise the balance.
The Rotary Club of Ulverstone is also hosting a cocktail party in November to help raise funds.
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