Former New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns does not know if he will ever walk again but says he is lucky to be alive after a series of life-threatening surgeries left him paralysed waist down.
The 51-year-old suffered an aortic dissection – an often fatal rare heart condition – in August and was on life support. He was saved by four open heart surgeries but he had a spinal stroke on the operating table. Four months later, he is living at the University of Canberra hospital in a special rehabilitation facility.
“I don’t know if I will ever walk again and I have made my peace with that,” he was quoted as saying by stuff.co.nz. “It is now about understanding I can lead a full and enjoyable life in a wheelchair but at the same time knowing it will be different.”
Cairns, who played 62 Tests and 215 ODIs for New Zealand between 1989 to 2006, is facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair but he said he is simply “lucky to still be here.”
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“It has been 14 weeks since I had my injury and it feels like a lifetime when I look back. I have zero recollection of the eight or nine days when I had four open heart surgeries. My wife, Mel, was with me the whole time and I have to refer back to her constantly with regards to what was going on. I was completely out of it.”
Explaining the events of the fateful day in August, Cairns said, “I remember dropping kids off at school that morning. But with an aortic dissection you are a functioning time bomb. The tear in your artery is leaking blood and your blood pressure drops. You are in a haze. I remember arriving at the emergency department, vomiting and then they took my blood pressure and rushed me through.
“They put me upside down to get blood flow down to the brain. Next thing I remember is waking up in Sydney nine days later not knowing what was going on.”
Cairns feels his sporting career is helping his recovery as he hopes to be able to walk again. “I will try and squeeze everything I can in over the next 12-24 months. Having been in a career when bones and muscles take six weeks to repair, there is no timeline here. I may get a flicker in three months in one muscle but it may take nine months. Your muscles atrophy over time and so then that takes time to build back up. It is one thing getting nerves to turn back on but then you have to build the muscle back up so you can stand and then walk.
“I hope I will be going back on family holidays with the kids but I may be wheelchair bound for the rest of my life. At least I have the chance to be here and live life in a different way if that happens.”