Andy's long ride home

At around 5pm on Tuesday 1st July 2014, Andy Corles had one thing on his mind - his family. Having just knocked off work, from the Corles home-based business in rural Whangapoua, Andy was on his way to collect his four-year-old daughter, while wife Shelley packed for their first family holiday in two years. Maddie, the love of their lives, was on a playdate in Coromandel Township.

Unfortunately, life took an unexpected turn that day. Andy never made it home.

Just as he pulled out of the driveway, Andy remembers the “heavens opening up and the rain pouring down”. As his car rounded a bend, a kilometre and a half from home, it suddenly, unexpectedly, went into a spin. His front wheel had aquaplaned and hit a pothole.

“As I lost control of the car, I can remember saying, “I’m sorry Shelley” and putting my arms in front of my face to protect me,” Andy recalls, “That was about it.”

What should have been a routine run changed his life forever. Travelling at about 45km per hour, he was later assured he could have rounded that corner hundreds of times safely.

Andy doesn’t remember his car hitting the bank and flipping onto its roof. However, as he came to, he realised something was terribly wrong. Hanging upside down, the young dad could see his legs, but he couldn’t move them.

“I had been a St John first responder for four years, so I had a pretty good idea about what had happened. I thought I had a lower spinal injury as I drifted in and out of consciousness.”

Andy’s life was saved thanks to the kindness and quick thinking of strangers. A man and a woman arrived in two separate vehicles.

“The man knew all of the Coromandel Fire Brigade and phoned them directly after making the 111 call.”

The Corles say the community really rallied around them that day. “It is one of the reasons why we love living in the Coromandel. We feel very lucky to be where we are,” Shelley says.

Local police, fire and ambulance crew arrived within minutes. Shelley and the couple’s immediate family arrived shortly after.

“I knew when I saw the car upside down, on the wrong side of the road, and facing the wrong way, Andy was in serious trouble. I was able to briefly comfort him but I tried to give people the space they needed. I felt lost. A policeman asked who I was. I must’ve looked like a wet, crazy lady!”

Shelley was asked to wait inside the ambulance. The Coromandel Fire Crew used the jaws of life to free Andy so he could get the urgent medical attention he needed.

Crew from the Auckland and Coromandel Westpac Rescue Helicopter were on their way. They drove by car from the Coromandel Airfield due to the poor weather. They met the ambulance on Whangapoua hill.

“I remember St John saying they needed to meet the helicopter crew. I think that was the point when I realised that our lives were going to change forever. I knew from Andy’s training, that you only need a helicopter crew, when it is very, very bad,”   Shelley says, “But when I saw them, I also felt the most relief I have ever felt in my entire life!”

The couple believe that had the rescue helicopter crew, which included Medical Director - Dr. Chris Denny, not been there, Andy would have died. “End of story.”

“I remember the doctor’s Canadian accent. He had a sense of calm about him that made me feel, “I can do this. We can do this,” Shelley says. One of the crew gave her his jacket, while they waited to load Andy into the chopper.

Andy’s story didn’t end, but his road to recovery would be a long one. Flown to Auckland City Hospital in just 24 minutes, he was intubated, to assist his breathing, and would remain in Intensive Care for 28 days. Shelley believes Andy would never have survived the three hour trip by road to Waikato Hospital, while Thames Hospital just wasn’t equipped to cope with Andy’s injuries.

Within 10 minutes of being at Auckland City Hospital, staff determined Andy had a cervical injury, not a lumbar injury as Andy had thought.  A tetraplegic, the accident has cost him the use of his legs but, thankfully, not his life.

“Without a doubt our lives changed forever,” Shelley says, “But, not once has Andy let his injury rule his life.”

Determined not to be defeated, Andy set his first two goals when he awoke from his coma. “My first goal was to have Shelley and Maddie’s names and the date of my accident tattooed onto my body and my second - to cycle the K2,” Andy says.

“A doctor asked me what I wanted to achieve at the spinal unit. I said I am going home in a manual wheelchair. He told me it was great to have goals, but to be realistic. Well, I proved him wrong. It took a lot of work, but it was worth it in the end.”

Almost three years on from the accident, Andy is totally independent – working, driving, and helping care for Maddie, now seven years. Staying true to his word, he’s taken up cycling using a Force RX Handcycle. On 28th October 2017, he competed in the Nicholas Browne Challenge, handcycling from Tairua to Whitianga for the first time.