Sam Olney is paralyzed from the waist down after a 4-wheel-drive accident in the Kaimai Ranges on 13 September 2022. Video / Michael Craig
An Auckland woman wants to walk again after surviving a horror crash in the Kaimai range that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Samantha (Sam) Olney, 24, was with her workmates on a four-wheel-drive up Thompson Track in the Waikato-Bay of Plenty mountain range in September when the back wheels of their vehicle went off the edge of the road.
The vehicle careened out of control down a steep bank, flipping end over end.
Despite suffering a life-changing spinal cord injury, Olney is intent on getting back on her feet.
She was a member of the KAS Netball Club in Waiuku, which had won their grade days before the crash.
“My long-term goal is to walk again. I really want to walk one day,” the former netball player told the Herald.
“I may not be able to walk a long distance but to be able to stand and walk five steps would make my whole life.”
Olney spent two weeks at Middlemore Hospital, eight weeks at a spinal rehab unit in Otara and is now preparing for a 6-12-month home rehab.
“I can’t feel anything, I can’t move anything.
“I have to shower sitting down. The things you take for granted – that’s all changed.”
Another big adjustment was having a “wheelchair for legs”, she said.
“I have had to learn to maneuver that around the community and my house. You go from simply walking around to squeezing in, realizing you can’t fit into some places anymore.”
The most challenging for Olney was to make peace with the injury and “adapt to a new life”, she said.
“Watching family and friends process what’s happened has been hard.
“I’m one person and I can accept how it is but you have to break the news to everyone else about what happened and watch them have to adjust to your life.
“Physically, the hardest probably is doing workouts. Now, I’ve got to really push myself to work out and get stronger.
“It takes up a big chunk of my day, trying to lift weights and get biceps. Because now I have to do everything with my arms, my upper body needs to get strong.
“I want to get as strong as I can so I can get back to work. It’s a physical and mental journey but I am here and I am still going.”
Olney said her journey was still a long one.
“It’s like being a child again. You go back to square one and sort your life back to where you were before the accident.
“My goal right now is to get my driver’s license. It would make me even more independent, not having to rely on taxis.”
Olney had to do a cognitive test to show she was okay to drive again.
“It’s got the pictures and they ask you if you can turn now or the other car has to give way and then I’d go for a drive in a hand-controlled vehicle. Everything from your legs is now hand controlled.
“I am very hopeful for the assessment. It has been my biggest push during recovery.”
Her family had been her biggest support, Olney said.
“My partner and his family have been amazing. My dad has been great so are my mum and sister.
“Some people are quite negative, and mentally, the hardest thing is to lose friends you thought you’d never lose.
“Seeing people disappear was a big challenge; it really brought me down. But I gained new friends from my spinal rehab who are amazing.”
Sam has started a give-a-little fundraiser to support her rehab and recovery journey.
Olney said she had learned a lot during her recovery, which had encouraged her to help others in a similar situation.
“I have become so sure, I want to help everyone else, it was never like that before.
“The spinal rehab was amazing. I saw all kinds of different people and just being able to talk with them, bring them out, and show them that it’s alright to not be the same as we were was great.”
Olney said it was good to carry on and be herself.
“You may not look the same because you’re not tall anymore, we have become short but it doesn’t change who you are. It just means you’ve got adjustments now.”
The pilot who rescued Olney and her workmates said it took hours to safely transport them to the hospital.
Auckland’s Helicopter Rescue team was sent to the crash at 11.45am on September 13.
“We were hovering over a thick forest area, and it was a windy day, a lot of turbulence made the task a bit difficult,” pilot James Tayler said.
“We saw the jeep-type vehicle down the steep bank. We couldn’t see any people at that time.
“We winched the medic down first and then landed the helicopter some distance away,” Taylor said.
“A member of the public who was traveling on the same muddy road gave us a lift to the scene.
“It took half an hour to winch the first person up, who had to be on a stretcher.”
An Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter doctor and a critical care paramedic were also at the scene and the Hamilton rescue team also arrived, Taylor said.
“Two people were seriously injured and a third person suffered moderate injuries.
“We transported one patient to Middlemore Hospital because medics said it was the best place for her treatment.
“The other went with the Hamilton team. The third managed to get out.”