Tom Elphick was an aspiring professional dancer and overseas student at Codarts University in Rotterdam with a promising and exciting career ahead of him. He was coming to the end of his degree and had just landed a great position with a top dance company.
Tragically Tom’s dreams and plans were abruptly ended during a trip to Portugal with some friends—an innocuous dive into the waves off a beach in Lisbon saw him hit his head on a hidden sand bank. Tom was left paralyzed from the neck down and in grave need of surgery. He had sustained a critical injury to his cervical vertebrae and damage to the surrounding nerves.
“Everything went silent and eerily calm. I couldn’t move my arms and legs or catch my breath as I came to the surface. All of a sudden I was on the sand again and could see my friends in front of me. Their faces told me everything I needed to know. In that moment my life changed completely.”
Tom spent 5 weeks in Lisbon Hospital before being repatriated to Australia and then a further 5 months in the spinal unit at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Hospital learning to do the most basic things again. Fortunately Tom’s recovery has been much better than he could ever have anticipated. Two rounds of reconstructive nerve surgery to the lost muscles in his arms were very successful and he was able to recover much function. He was even able to walk, albeit unsteadily, out of the hospital, something he wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to do again.
5 years on from his injury Tom has been able to make massive strides and become completely independent. In terms of walking, Tom would never have expected to be in a position to be challenging himself to complete a half marathon on behalf of SpinalCure Australia in January 2021.
“I am so grateful that I’ve come this far and only want to keep pushing myself to get better each year. Knowing that people make amazing recoveries gave me so much hope.”
He is now surprised at just how little people see his disability. To him, his limp and upper limb weakness are almost impossible to miss. Tom was bemused when a friend at university asked him after 3 months why he walks so slowly and they were equally as confused when he explained that he has a spinal cord injury.
Tom has now completed a Bachelor of Advanced Science at UNSW and is starting a Doctor of Medicine next year at Notre Dame university.
“At this stage, being a spinal physician motivates me most. I really want to continue my research into spinal cord injuries. Be that through research or medicine, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to make a big impact for many people. I see myself staying connected to this community and continually striving to improve health outcomes.”
If you’d like to follow Tom’s journey and support his fundraising efforts to complete a half marathon on behalf of SpinalCure Australia please visit his GoFundMe page here.