Tertiary study, international travel and launching his own business are among the many milestones quadriplegic Lee Taniwha has achieved in spite of a diving accident which initially left him unable to scratch his own face.
The Auckland man, now aged 30, has had to adapt his entire lifestyle around his C4/C5 spinal injury which occurred when he dived headfirst into his aunt’s swimming pool as a 13 year-old.
“It was the last weekend before the summer holidays. I hadn’t swum there before so I didn't know how to judge the depth. For some reason instead of diving across, I dived down. I immediately hit the bottom and I couldn’t move anything. I couldn’t resurface because my hands and legs wouldn’t work.”
While his cousins were nearby, they thought Lee was playing around. Until the air bubbles stopped surfacing. “I was hoping they wouldn’t have to witness me drowning because it would stick with them forever. I was at the bottom and I was literally just counting… I thought I had about five seconds left.”
Lee’s narrow escape was followed by five months in Auckland’s Spinal Rehabilitation Unit. While he didn’t have any movement to begin with, by the time he returned home he could feed himself. Since then, sheer strength, determination and the right support has enabled him to live a busy and fulfilling life. He returned to school fulltime and eventually became a prefect. He then went on to achieve a Bachelor of Applied Science majoring in graphic design.