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People Making Changes Issue 6 -
Rebuilding a shattered life

- Dorothy - 13/2/97

“What do you do when your life falls apart - give in or find a new path?”

December 1985 - a gush of water from a water slide swept Peter head first against the side of a pool. January 1997 - he is managing to walk a little and his course is set to help others.

Peter Lawrence What sort of person was Peter Lawrence before the accident?

He was physically strong, worked hard at labouring jobs or driving, and played hard too. Because of tension in his home in 1985 he went overseas to take a break, and decide what he was going to do.

Traumatic accidents in Australia
In December in Australia he was a passenger in a car which was involved in an accident. He was knocked unconscious, but recovered well. Three weeks later in Sydney the water slide accident occurred. He didn't seem to have been hurt. He went out to dinner and played cards until 2 a.m. The next day the headaches began, the next night he began to have severe fits, and when his friends called an ambulance he violently resisted being taken to hospital. He became unconscious, and a scan revealed a huge clot on his brain.

One piece of good fortune followed. A neuro-surgeon happened to be in casualty and began work immediately. Peter's mother was called as he was expected to have only twenty four hours to live. She was given an emergency passport and she and her niece flew to her son's bedside. This frail asthmatic woman refused to believe the doctor's forecast and willed her son to live. He was given a craniotomy and survived, but his motor function was gone after the surgery. He was not expected to walk again - ever. Although Peter was in a coma for seven days and unable to reply his relatives talked to him incessantly - a technique which has been proved to have positive results for many people.

Back to New Zealand to years in hospital
After six months in hospital in Australia he was flown back to New Zealand and was two years in the old ward 10 in Christchurch Public Hospital. Then he was transferred to ward 2 in Burwood Hospital, to what he terms "the dumping ground". This was the place for those who could not be expected to improve any more, and Peter will never forget the sights he saw there - people physically disabled but mentally alert, and mostly without hope. Even from there Peter did not give up. He went to Hagley High School and began to study Maori. His son was part Maori and could speak the language and Peter did not want to be given cheek he could not understand!

Then Peter's mother took him home to a house specially adapted for his wheel chair and his limited mobility. This man who had never wanted to study in his life enrolled for a Liberal Studies course at the University of Canterbury, and completed the Certificate in two years. He moved on to study for a B.A. and has completed 54 points towards his degree - more than half way. He is majoring in Education and choosing options that will give him insight in effective education for special needs people.

Peter became concerned that there is no legal voice for disabled children, and limited ACC representation for disabled people who can't talk, so he decided to do some legal studies. He worked as a junior for a lawyer and tried some examinations in law. Here he has met some setbacks, but with characteristic determination he is going to try again.

Future business plans
The next ambition is to open a business where he will make deliveries of takeaways in a specially adapted car. These will be collected from the best possible suppliers and delivered. Customers wanting food delivered will be able to ring the one number and order food from different outlets. The business operations will be fully computerised and when he needs staff he will be employing students.

What has motivated Peter through years of frustration?
His mother's support sustained him until her death in 1993. Latterly, the assistance of Cos Ter Veer who works with disabled people as a motivator, has proved so powerful that in the last month Peter has managed to walk the length of the hall in his house four times! He has also been motivated by his deep love for his son, who at nineteen is tall and agile - and a representative basketball player for Canterbury.

Peter's dreams
A series of business ventures will be floated and the proceeds will go to opening a village for disabled adults and children in partnership with Cos Ter Veer. The residents will have their own self-contained units, and in this setting they may develop their potential for a fuller life supported by Peter and Cos.

He also dreams of his graduation ceremony where he will walk on to the stage and down the other side - UNAIDED.

One big problem for Peter is that the days are not long enough for all that he aims to do to help others while developing his own mobility and his helping skills.

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