Sometimes life hits you from the blindside but not for Sandi

Sam and Corby Small with their mum Sandi Small who has been in a wheelchair since she was 18.
Sam and Corby Small with their mum Sandi Small who has been in a wheelchair since she was 18. Sharyn O'Neill

SANDI Small is fun, forthright and adores motherhood.

If she'd had her way, the Kinka Beach mother would have had six children.

But sometimes life hits you from the blindside and after a car accident that left her with paraplegia, Sandi is grateful for the two children she thought she would never have.

At 22 and 14, Sam and Corby Small have always known their mum to be in a wheelchair and Sandi believes it's partly the reason for their resourceful and independent natures.

"In December 1979 I was involved in a car accident. The driver of our car fell asleep and veered into an oncoming car and caravan," she said.

The car ploughed into the caravan and Sandi was taken by ambulance to Newcastle and then air lifted to Royal North Shore Hospital's spinal injuries unit in Sydney.

Since that day, she has had no feeling or movement below the injury in her back and has used a wheelchair.

"Watching Sam and Corby grow up has been priceless; it's the best thing I've ever done," she said.

But the toughest part about being a mum wasn't the extra physical challenges. It was society's perceptions.

"When I was pregnant, some people would say I was selfish because I was bringing a child into the world with a disability.

"They had no knowledge about my situation or that my disability wasn't congenital."

Sandi said it was this type of ignorance she'd had to manage since the day of her injury.

Fortunately Sandi's great sense of humour and healthy dose of pragmatism helped her to become adept at dealing with people's attitudes.

As a volunteer Spinal Education Awareness Team (SEAT) presenter, Sandi shares her experience with paraplegia and injury prevention messages with school students throughout the Rockhampton region.

She said the thing she most loved about the program was engaging students who had no experience interacting with a person with a disability.

"You get to speak to them and show them that you are just like them - that using a wheelchair is a minor detail and that you're still a person who enjoys doing the things that they enjoy," she said.

Spinal Injuries Association chief executive officer Bruce Milligan said Sandi demonstrated that having a spinal cord injury was no impediment to having a job, a family and enjoyment.


Spinal Injuries

  • Queensland sees 90 spinal cord injuries every year
  • Most spinal cord injuries happen to people under 35
  • More than 70% of spinal cord injuries are in men
  • The main causes are road trauma, falls and water-related accidents

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