Friends triumph in adversity
Friendship forged: Zac Leow and Lachlan Cousins. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

Lachlan Cousins and Zac Leow forged their friendship as they lay on their backs in hospital during the most devastating time of their young lives.

Suffering catastrophic spinal injuries in accidents late last year, they found themselves in beds next to each other in Royal Perth Hospital's spinal unit.

They have shared heartache, hope and happiness over the past eight months as they have worked together to recover from their terrible injuries.

Lachlan, 17, was with his friends at Cottesloe beach on October 24 when his life was turned upside down.

"I can't remember what happened but I hit a sandbar," he said. "It was the last day of school, a celebration. I remember a second of being on the beach. But I don't remember much of the end of 2013."

The Aquinas College pupil broke the fourth and fifth bones in his neck and was left unable to move. He spent a month in RPH, much of it heavily sedated.

When Lachlan eventually came around, he found Mr Leow in the same room.

Mr Leow moved to Perth from his home in Singapore in July last year to study sports science at UWA.

His studies were suddenly halted on November 6 when his bike's front wheel caught in drain on a cycle path in Shenton Park, flipping the 28-year-old on his head.

"I remember being on the floor, trying to move and trying to get up but I couldn't and had to wait for passers-by to come," he said.

Mr Leow arrived in RPH's spinal unit having broken the first bone in his neck at the base of the skull, which is considered the worst spinal fracture.

The pair talked, swapped their stories and got to know each other.

"I didn't actually get to see Lachy face to face at all because I was always looking up at the ceiling," Mr Leow said.

"I was allowed to sit up a little bit so I could see Zac's feet," Lachlan said.

Lachlan and Mr Leow were both transferred to Shenton Park Rehabilitation Hospital, where they helped each other as the reality of their paralysis sank in.

"I slowly realised. I went to grab things but I couldn't. When I woke up, the only muscle I had (working) was my right bicep so every time I went to move my body, the only thing I'd move was my right bicep and I'd hit myself in the face. I didn't have a clue what was happening," Lachlan said.

They encouraged each other to work hard in their daily therapy sessions.

"Lachy shared a lot of small joys with me more than my family for the fact he was always with me," Mr Leow, who ran competitively before his accident, said.

"He was the first one who told me 'you know, Zac, I believe you'll be able to run again' and I think I was the first person to see him get on to the new wheelchair and he was just so stoked that day because that was the first time Lachy was in control of his movement for a good two months or so. We shared each other's small joys and milestones in our new lives."

Lachlan, who was the youngest patient at the Shenton Park hospital last year and now, said it was good to be with another young person going through the same experience.

Despite being told he would never walk again, Mr Leow was managing to move himself from his bed to his commode a week after arriving at the hospital.

He was discharged the day before Christmas and has made an amazing recovery since.

Mr Leow ran a half-marathon in Singapore, with "Lachlan" written on his forearm as a dedication to his inspirational friend, who is still having rehabilitation in Shenton Park.

Mr Leow also finished the Perth Marathon.

"I really thought a lot of Lachy during my first half-marathon. We had the same injury but so far our outcome has been pretty different. And I actually feel really bad for Lachy," he said tearfully as Lachlan reached out to comfort him.

Lachlan has gained mobility and strength in his arms and plans to begin a commerce degree at Curtin University next year.

A fundraiser is being held for Lachlan on Saturday, August 9 to raise money to buy a specially modified vehicle.

The Lach in a Car fundraiser is being organised through Aquinas College.

The West Australian

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