Camping trip mishap leaves Aussie mum paralysed after falling off a cliff

Leanne Cattanach fell five metres into the river hitting rocks and debris on the way down.

Left: Melbourne mum Leanne Cattanach in wheelchair with daughter. Right: Camping spot on the Murry River in Tocumwal
Melbourne mum Leanne Cattanach was paralysed after falling off a cliff into a river while camping with her family. Source: Supplied.

An unfortunate misstep during a camping trip with the family has left mum Leanne Cattanach paralysed after falling five metres off a cliff and into a river, breaking her spine.

The 46-year-old told Yahoo News Australia she was warming her hands by the fire on the banks of the Murray River while camping at Tocumwal — on the border of NSW and Victoria — last month. But a "lapse of judgement" changed her life forever.

"I took one step back and literally fell off the cliff," the mum-of-three from Melbourne said from hospital where she's recovering. "I woke up and I was just struggling to breathe."

"My daughter just kept saying ‘Mum, I’m here'" she continued. "I landed in the water so they had to move my head out of the water and put me in a recovery position."

'Severe' injuries cause paralysis below the waist

Cattanach said she "phased in and out" admitting most of what followed was a blur. She understands her family attempted to call for help – with the little phone reception they had available. Her daughters and partner Mick kept her alive for three hours until help arrived.

While she can’t remember clearly how she fell, she believes she hit debris on the way down "because of how my back was broken". Doctors confirmed she'd broken her T11 and T12 vertebrae, severely damaging her spinal cord. Her sternum and three ribs were also fractured and she was nursing a fractured lung.

Her injuries mean Cattanach is now paralysed from the waist down with doctors fearing she may never be able to walk again.

Left: Leanne Cattanach in a wheelchair after becoming paralysed. Right: Leanne Cattanach's three daughters Aimee, Aly and Tegan
The mum of three girls (pictured) broke her T11 and T12 vertebrae, severely damaging her spinal cord, and fractured her sternum and three ribs. She also had a punctured lung from the fall. Source: Supplied

"I just remember waking up [in hospital] and then Mick [her partner] was asleep on the floor. He told me I needed a back operation," said the mum of three girls, aged 15, 17 and 26.

"I was still not quite understanding the whole extent of everything. But the look on his face… he was probably in shock himself".

Mum struggling with 'normal' tasks

The Melbourne mother was first transferred to Shepparton Hospital from the camping site after being "abseiled up the cliff" by emergency services. She was later transferred to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne where she remained in the ICU.

Speaking of her recovery this week, Cattanach said she has "progressed really, really well" despite her life-changing injuries. However, she still has no movement from her waist down and requires help with "normal, everyday things".

"I do like to do things myself and so the amount of stuff that I need help with is, it's really hard," she said. "I'm trying to get stronger in my upper body so that I can focus on rehabilitating, but everyone heals differently.

"The girls have been really supportive. It’s actually brought everyone together."

Leanne Cattanach and her three daughters Aly, Aimee and Tegan.
The Melbourne mum said her daughters have helped her through her recovery while she remains in hospital. Source: Supplied

GoFundMe set up to aid mum's recovery

Her youngest daughter Tegan, who, along with Aimee, still lives at home with their mum has launched a GoFundMe to "help with the financial burden on my mum for us, so she can focus on rehabilitation."

Cattanach is unable to work and will likely require a new car that's better suited to her injuries.

"Mum needs to focus on her rehab right now," wrote Tegan. "We don’t know how long recovery will take — months, years, or the realisation that she may never recover."

The 46-year-old is now waiting for a bed to become available in a rehabilitation centre in Talbot. There she’ll learn "how to look after myself" before eventually being allowed to go home. And while she's now able to use a wheelchair to get around she said, "things are still really hard for me".

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