IT was in August last year that David Swain found himself in tears standing outside John Hunter Hospital, in NSW's Hunter Valley, desperately needing to be by his wife's side after she was pulled from a pool with a suspected spinal injury.
Newcastle was on the brink of its second lockdown when Katherine Swain and a friend jumped into a swimming pool together.
It was something they could have done "a thousand times over" with no problem, Mr Swain said.
But in an instant, their lives were irrevocably changed.
The impact of hitting the bottom of the pool left the 35-year-old Merewether mother a quadriplegic.
"We were just at a friend's house," Mr Swain said. "It was a shallow pool. She hadn't realised how shallow it was. It was something you could do a thousand times over and this wouldn't have happened. An everyday task.
"And we were just struck by lightning."
Restrictions due to COVID-19 meant that Mr Swain was not permitted to enter John Hunter Hospital.
He did not see her until she was transferred to Royal North Shore in Sydney, several days later. These restrictions also meant their daughters - eight-year-old Chloe and five-year-old Abbie - only saw their mother twice in three months.
"We have had a pretty rough six months," Mr Swain said. "The kids have been amazing. They have nursed me back to dry eyes a million times... There is no text book for a broken neck, but if there was, it generally reads that you're in Sydney at Ryde Royal Rehab for at least 12 months.
"Because of what happened with COVID - my access was horrible. I was always pleading my case to see my wife, and driving up and down from Newcastle to Sydney daily and trying to manage the kids and everything else that was going on.
"It was a horrendous time."
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Mrs Swain only spent three months in Sydney.
"We have worked pretty hard our whole lives, and we've managed to get in front a little bit," he said.
"Because of that, we've been able to pull some strings and get her home earlier and do her rehab in a private setting. We have hired a private physio for three months, we bought a new house that has a lift.
"Our old house - where Katherine has never been back to - had steps to get inside. You don't realise how many steps there are everywhere until you can't use them."
They had been overwhelmed by love and support from family, friends and acquaintances after the accident. Everyone wanted to do something to help.
Some of their friends, who run small businesses across the Hunter region, joined forces to sponsor a race day in Ms Swain's honour. Others wanted to start a Go Fund Me campaign.
"We didn't need that - we just wanted their love and support," he said. "But it was nearly impossible to stop."
Having seen the challenges that people with spinal cord injuries face - particularly those who don't live in Sydney - the family was inspired to support others perhaps not so fortunate in practical ways.
"By way of making some good come out of a bad situation, we ended up creating an organisation called Stronger Together - raising money to help other people who are struggling, or identifying where there are gaps between the hospital and home and trying to fill them."
They hope to soon establish it as an official not-for-profit charity.
They have big plans.
Mr Swain said they would like to raise enough money to help establish more options for specialist spinal care in the Hunter so that Sydney was no longer the "only solution" in NSW. They want to establish training platforms for carers looking after people with spinal injuries, deck out a wheelchair transport vehicle to help people get to potentially "life-changing" consultations, and offer some accommodation near rehab services to allow families to be closer to each other during a traumatic life event.
A black tie event for Stronger Together at Newcastle Jockey Club in March sold out within 48 hours. It will coincide with a 500 kilometre ride in which the family's Newcastle and Orange in NSW's Central West supporters go head-to-head in a fundraising battle. So far, Team Orange is leading the stakes. They hope the Newcastle community will give them a run for their money via go.dojiggy.io/strongertogetherforspinal.
Mr Swain said the support so far had been enormous because his wife was so wonderful and well-loved.
"It was always everyone else first with her," he said. "The Stronger Together logo is a unicorn with a spine running down its back. We all think of her as a unicorn - rare and beautiful."
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