Man shatters his spine while swimming on family holiday

A family reunion has turned into heartbreak for a Sydney man and his family after he was left a quadriplegic following a horrific accident in the US.

Gilbert Sahyoun, 38, took his chronically ill mother to North Carolina for a family reunion in August.

His cousin, Christine Sahyoun, told Yahoo7 the meeting of relatives from Lebanon, Australia and the US at lagoon Pamlico Sound on August 13 left the family devastated.

Sydney man Gilbert Sahyoun, 38, has been left quadriplegic after diving into shallow water at Pamlico Sound, North Carolina during a family reunion. Source: Supplied/Christine Sahyoun

“It was Gilbert’s first trip overseas,” Ms Sahyoun said.

Family members were playing volleyball in the lagoon as Mr Sahyoun’s mother watched on, sitting at the edge of the pier.

The ball landed in water near the shore and Mr Sahyoun dived in headfirst to retrieve it.

“The water was dark and murky so he couldn’t tell how shallow it was,” Ms Sahyoun.

Mr Sahyoun shattered his spine at the C5 vertebrae and was rushed to Norfolk General Hospital, according to a GoFundMe page.

Ms Sahyoun has been described as having the ‘softest heart’. Source: Supplied/Christine Sahyoun

He had to undergo a number of surgeries and is now confined to a wheelchair. 

“Tragically, Gilbert is now quadriplegic, paralysed from the chest down and unable to use his hands, which makes his goal of returning home particularly complicated and expensive,” the GoFundMe page reads. 

“His mum’s been sent home to Sydney,” Ms Sayhoun said. 

“She can’t cope. She just wants to get him home. He just wants to go home.

“We’re all devastated.” 

The 38-year-old can lift his arms but can’t use his hands. Source: Supplied/Christine Sahyoun

The family and friends of Mr Sahyoun are hoping to put him on a flight fitted with the appropriate medical equipment back to Sydney.

Mr Sahyoun works in IT and has been caring for his mum and sister who both suffer from chronic illnesses. 

His cousin added it just made his situation far more tragic.

Mr Sahyoun gets a visit from Lost actor Terry O’Quinn who lives nearby. Source: Twitter/ Terry O’Quinn

“He has such a strong spirit but it’s like he’s trapped in his body,” she said. 

“His brain is working at 110 per cent and he has the softest heart. He’s still smiling. 

“Everyone at the hospital is in love with him.” 

She added her cousin only wanted to take his mother overseas to see the family and described him as a man “dedicated to caring for others”. 

“It always happens to the good people,” she said.

A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesperson said DFAT was providing consular assistance, in accordance with the Consular Services Charter, to an Australian man hospitalised in the US.

‘Don’t let heat melt your judgement’

Surf Life Saving Queensland has warned anyone heading to the beach to be careful when entering the water.

“Exercise caution when entering the water as there may be submerged logs, rocks, or other objects beneath the surface,” SLSQ said in a statement.

SLSQ’s Jason Argent added swimmers need to keep between the flags.

“From our experience, when it’s busy people seem to think they just might go a bit further down for a swim, but that puts an incredible strain on our resources when we have to divert our assets to perform rescues outside the flags,” he said.

“Don’t let the heat melt your judgement; take into consideration your own safety and the safety of others, and make it a priority.”