Sharing painful story in effort to educate

Carolyne Smith and Morgan Te Whata hope to save other Dunedin residents from the turmoil they face.

Mrs Smith (66) was seriously injured when hit by the van Mr Te Whata (67) was driving, as she was three-quarters of the way across a Prince Albert Rd pedestrian crossing on September 2.

The incident, resulting in surgery and ongoing rehabilitation for Mrs Smith and a court case against Mr Te Whata, has had a huge impact on their families.

Now they have united to share their story, in the hope it will prevent similar incidents from damaging the lives of others.

''We've got a unique opportunity to share our story and increase people's awareness, to make them think and talk in their family. Anything good that can come from our suffering is positive,'' Mrs Smith said.

Mr Te Whata, who pleaded guilty to a charge of careless driving causing injury, has diabetes, kidney problems and failing eyesight.

He said he did not see Mrs Smith on the pedestrian crossing, and in hindsight believed his medical conditions could have affected his driving.

''I have regular diabetic, kidney and eye checkups, but have never thought to ask whether I should be driving. I realise now that it is a good idea to ask these questions about one's health,'' he said.

Mr Te Whata, a roofer, was disqualified from driving for six months and ordered to pay $2000 reparation when the case was heard in the Dunedin District Court last week.

He later told the Otago Daily Times the prospect of not being able to drive was daunting, limited a person's independence and could affect their ability to work as well as their living arrangements.

It was hard to give up something having done it every day for decades, he said.

But being responsible for causing someone's injuries, and knowing the trauma, anxiety and financial cost of those injuries was worse.

''Also, in the early days, not knowing whether they are going to survive is very scary and stressful. The police do not allow you to have contact with the victim or their family to say you are sorry or to ask how they are progressing,'' he said.

Mrs Smith spent 11 days in Dunedin Hospital, where she underwent a knee reconstruction, and almost six weeks in the Isis rehabilitation unit.

She had a fractured skull and broken collarbone, as well as a badly damaged knee.

As a result of her skull fracture, just behind her right ear, she had a constant ''screaming whistling'' in that ear and had to listen to white noise to drown it out.

The impairment made noisy situations unbearable and was likely to be permanent, she said.

''I'm a positive person, so it's going as well as it can, but it's a bit of a struggle sometimes.''

Her husband David said the entire family was affected by the incident; their children dropped work and family commitments and he retired early as a ship's captain.

''It caused turmoil,'' he said.

Mr and Mrs Smith believed many people in the community were concerned about being fit to drive, or whether a relative or friend was.

It was a hard topic to broach, and they hoped their story would encourage more discussion about the risks and consequences of driving with a physical impairment.

''It's a terrible thing for someone to lose their ability to drive, and nobody wants to take that away from somebody when it isn't necessary, but when families are in turmoil because they don't want a relative to hurt someone else with their driving, there needs to be a way of making that happen,'' Mrs Smith said.

''Hopefully, this is a realistic way people can communicate their fears. If families have to resort to hiding keys and hiding cars, then that's really stressful for them as well,'' she said.

Mrs Smith hoped there would be more services for people unable to drive, having experienced the loss of freedom due to her injuries.

''I've lost my licence effectively for six months at least and it really does increase your dependency on family and friends.''

A fit person, she went to the physio pool daily, did home exercises and saw a physiotherapist three times a week.

''One of my goals is to ride my bike to the gym again, and to dance again,'' she said.

• Mr Te Whata did not want to be photographed by the Otago Daily Times for this article.

-rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

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