Damian Bruce doesn’t often use his backyard pool, usually leaving his kids to enjoy the reprieve from the hot Adelaide sun.
But two Saturdays ago as the weather warmed up, he decided to join his nine-year-old son Carter in the pool for a quick dip around lunch time.
It was a decision he will remember for the rest of his life.
“I’m not a big fan of the water, but this day I was just going to go out there and hang out with him,” the 44-year-old told Yahoo News Australia.
“For some reason I just jumped in the pool, in a way I’ve never really jumped before.”
Diving into an area that was shallower than he thought, he knew something was wrong when he hit “head-first” into the bottom of the pool.
“I popped up for some air. I was at the deep end by this stage and I knew my son couldn’t help me,” he recalled.
“I went down with another breath and just sort of crawled along the bottom with my hands and pulled myself up onto the stairs.”
As he lay his head on the pool coping, his wife appeared outside and called the paramedics. The next thing Mr Bruce remembers is riding in an ambulance to the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
‘A matter of centimetres’ from life in a wheelchair
As the doctors told it to him, the father of four had essentially crushed the C7 vertebrae in his neck.
“They had to remove that and put a cage into my neck,” he said. Surgery was required to also tend to damage which occurred to vertebrae next to C7.
After swapping stories with others in the spinal ward at the hospital, he is grateful about just how lucky he ultimately was.
Affectionately known as Damo, the former rugby player has some exercises he can do and says he is currently able to lift his head about 10 to 20 centimetres off his pillow. With a long recovery ahead, he is expected to regain most of his abilities, albeit with a diminished range of movement in his neck.
“I just feel blessed that I can use my hands and my feet,” he said. “[The doctors] said it was a matter of centimetres, it not millimetres ... a centimetre here or there, I could be being pushed around for the rest of my life in a wheel chair.
“One lapse in concentration and this is where I’m at now ... an absolute freak accident.”
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia from his hospital bed, he fought back tears as he thought about his kids and getting back to doing things like coaching his youngest son’s rugby team.
“I’m biding my time to have a chat with him,” he said of Carter, who was in the pool at the time of the incident. “He’s a pretty resilient little bugger ... he’s a tough, little rugby player.
“I’ve got to be positive for my kids, I’ve got to show them some resilience and teach them that as well,” he said.
Since being laid up in hospital, Mr Bruce has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, not only from the rugby community but from others farther afield after his rugby mates set-up a GoFundMe page earlier this week.
The campaign hopes to help the family through the difficult period while Mr Bruce, who is self-employed as a brickie and landscaper, is unable to work.
“Unfortunately Damo has had a horrific accident breaking his neck in an incident in the family pool,” the page says.
“The great news is that he’s had a couple of operations and is able to walk but unfortunately will be laid up for a very long time and will be unable to work.”
At the time of writing, the campaign is just over $2,000 shy of its $20,000 goal.
“There’s people on this page that I don’t even know that are donating their hard-earned money,” Mr Bruce said, his voice breaking.
“It’s just been overwhelming.”
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