May 29, 2019
A tow truck driver is lucky to be alive after he was run over by his own vehicle and dragged beneath it for ten metres.
Gary Steele suffered collapsed lungs, multiple flesh wounds and broken ribs after the nine-tonne truck rolled over his upper body.
But despite his extensive injuries, the 68-year-old Wellsford man survived - along with his dry sense of humour.
"I'm very glad to be alive and very lucky as well," he said.
"The wheel came over my chest, had it have been any higher it would have gone over my head and probably squished everything out through me ears."
Speaking from his Matheson Rd home on Monday, Steele recounted the accident that almost claimed his life.
It was about 7pm on February 17, and he had just unloaded a van from his tow truck - a task he'd probably done thousands of times in his 30-plus-years as a tow truck driver.
But as he secured the van, the truck started rolling away down a gravel driveway.
He said: "I ran around the front ... but slipped over in the loose metal.
"Next thing I'm looking up and there was this wheel coming over my chest."
He said he must have put his arms up to try and fend the vehicle off him but action caught his skin and degloved his left arm.
All of his ribs were broken and his ear - mostly torn off - was "hanging on by a thread".
Once everything stopped moving, he blacked out.
He was found by his daughter, Jacinda Henare, lying motionless under the truck.
She reversed it away and called for help. Before long the fire brigade, local doctor, St John ambulance and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter had all rushed to his aid.
The unconscious patient came around for just long enough to give his rescuers grief for cutting off his favourite "grumpy old man" t-shirt, which had been ripped to tatters, then promptly blacked out again.
He flown to Auckland City Hospital in a critical condition.
Casey Drum, Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust intensive care paramedic, said he gave Steele strong plain relief.
"He had terrible chest injuries and was likely to be bleeding internally or have underlying injuries to his lungs," he added.
As a strange coincidence, one of the helicopter's crewmen recognised Steele as the man who had towed his car at one point, Drum said.
The next thing Steele remembered was waking up in hospital two weeks later.
His wife Jackie reminded him that he had in fact woken up the next day, and every day in between, but his memory was hazy because of the drugs.
"He had no conception of what day it was or what year it was. He knew his name and date of birth and that was about it," she said.
"He didn't even know that he was in hospital, he thought he was somewhere finishing a tow job."
Steele spent six weeks in hospital during which time he underwent several operations.
He was given a titanium chest plate and his ear was sewed back on at Auckland hospital.
Then he was transferred to Middlemore hospital for skin grafts.
Several months on from the accident, Jackie said it was nothing short of a miracle that you could barely tell he had been in an accident at all.
Tears welled up in Steele's eyes as he talked of the love and support he had received since the accident.
"You don't realise how many people think about you and it gets a bit emotional thinking about so many people showing you affection," he said.
Steele wanted to thank all the emergency teams who helped saved his life - especially the Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew.
"At the end of the day, I think having the helicopter there and the paramedics was a life saver," he said.
"I hope they get better resources than what they've got because they do a great job of saving the lives of people like myself who have unwittingly done something stupid."
He also wanted to thank the doctors and nurses and both hospitals for the "top-notch" care he'd received.
"It was just amazing really, just overwhelmed by all the support - still," he added.
Steele was also taken aback by the kindness shown by his Wellsford community - half of whom he said had paid him a visit, often times bringing fresh produce or meat for the freezer.
Paramedic Drum said hearing about recoveries like Steele's was "intensely satisfying".
"It's the biggest reward of doing the work we train for.
"Maybe now he could give me and my crew a sort of 'get-out-of-jail-free-card' and not tow our cars in future," he said with a laugh.