Carolyn Beaver rides an elephant in Nepal on her way to
work as a vet in the UK. Photos supplied.
Ever since she could remember, Carolyn Beaver wanted to
be a veterinarian.
With a passion for animals and anything medical, it seemed a
natural choice for the young woman from Whangarei.
She graduated from Massey University as a veterinary surgeon
in 1999 and spent three years working as a mixed-animal
practitioner in Whangarei, while also doing volunteer
ambulance work for St John.
Carolyn Beaver spent six months in rehabilitation in Stoke
Mandeville Hospital in the UK after a horse-riding
Like many other young Kiwis, she decided to travel to the
UK to work, increase her opportunity for travel and pay off her
The work was varied and she was part of the veterinary
surveillance and management team during the 2001 foot and
She decided to stay on longer than her initial two-year plan
to do further postgraduate study that was not available in
New Zealand at that time.
She was working in a small animal veterinary hospital in
Upminster in Essex and studying towards her certificate in
small animal internal medicine, the area in which she had
decided to specialise.
Carolyn Beaver has always had a love of horses.
Her plan was to finish her certificate and then move back
to New Zealand to live in Whangarei on a lifestyle block,
surrounded by animals.
On the morning of November 29, 2006, Dr Beaver was exercising
a client's horse when it got a fright and bolted.
She fell off and hit a tree, fracturing her fifth cervical
vertebra and receiving a spinal cord injury resulting in
After six months of rehabilitation in hospital in the UK, she
returned to New Zealand for a further five months at Burwood
Hospital in Christchurch.
As she had received her injury in the UK and had been working
over there for more than six months, she was not eligible for
While she acknowledged there had to be "lines drawn
somewhere", it was unfortunate, she said.
She had always been very conscious of having insurance and
when she started working in the UK, she had professional
indemnity insurance, disability cover and income protection.
When she decided at the end of the two years, during which
she had been on a working holiday visa, to stay on and do
further study, she transferred to a sponsor's work permit.
She had professional indemnity cover through the practice and
the practice and her both contributed to a health insurance
But disability insurance escaped her mind - until she was
lying in a hospital bed - and she admitted it was "stupid".
But it was also something that many people probably did not
think about and she urged anyone travelling overseas to make
sure they had adequate cover "if things happen".
Such an injury could happen to "any one of us" and while life
did not end, it would become more challenging, she said.
Those with spinal cord injury should still be able to feel
productive and contribute to a life that was satisfying for
them - and that was what Dr Beaver had set about doing.
A position as a research assistant became available through
the Burwood Academy of Independent Living (Bail), an
organisation based at Burwood Hospital that is committed to
improving the life experience of people recovering from
serious injury and illness.
At the time, Dr Beaver thought it would be a good "stopgap"
until she could get back into veterinary practice.
But her contact with the participants in the project, which
involved people with spinal-cord injury, and the Bail staff
fostered an ever-increasing interest in spinal-cord injury
rehabilitation and research.
Her aim post-injury was always to return to being a clinical
vet but her hand function, despite tendon surgery to get
better grip and movement, meant it was not really going to be
a safe option.
While "a little part" of her still did not want to give up
the dream of getting back into the consulting room, she
looked at other ways of contributing to science and maybe
helping others who had had an experience similar to hers.
Rehabilitation and spinal-cord injury research was
fascinating and very worthwhile and, hopefully, it would
become her passion, she said.
She is in the second year of a two-year postgraduate diploma
in rehabilitation through the University of Otago, and has
plans for further study.
Dr Beaver (36) was philosophical about her situation, saying
"everyone has days when things are pretty hard".
Right from when she was in intensive care, she was "just so
grateful" not to have a head injury.
Looking at those who were unconscious or on ventilators, she
realised that while she might not be able to move, at least
she could think and speak and communicate with others.
Things could always be worse, but that did not mean that
every day did not present challenges, she said.
Dr Beaver recently had a spinal cord stimulator inserted to
try to help with the pain and spasms, the two most
challenging effects from the injury.
Depending on how that went, she and her husband, Doug - he
proposed two months after her accident - hoped to have a
The couple met at a student wildlife symposium in South
Africa in the 1990s.
Home for the couple now was Upper Hutt, where they enjoyed
living in a quiet suburb.
Used to being a very active, sporty and outdoors person, Dr
Beaver found it very challenging not being able to go out for
a run and cycle.
That was one of her primary areas of interest in the
spinal-cord injury field - how people with mobility
restrictions could continue to maintain fitness, which became
very difficult once they were not able to use the big muscle
One of her goals was to get a hand-cycle so she could get
outside and exercise.
Another goal was to get a modified vehicle so she could drive
herself and regain some independence.
Hoping to raise $25,000 to assist Dr Beaver are Ostler Wines
and Dome Hills Station, in North Otago, which have teamed up
to organise The Team Carolyn Long Lazy Lunch at the Dome
Hills Station homestead, at Livingstone, on Sunday, October
Special guests include Dr Beaver, CatWalk Trust founder and
former equestrian champion Catriona Williams, Marlborough
veterinarian Peter Anderson and Dr Deborah Snell, the
academic director of Bail.
The five-course lunch will be enhanced by Bevan Smith from
Riverstone Kitchen, Jim Jerram from Ostler Wines, Simon Berry
from Whitestone Cheese and Kevin and Esther Gilbert from
Lievito Bakery in Dunedin.
There will also be an auction in which items include
everything from a dog service and wine to designer clothing
and a weekend at Dome Hills Station Lodge.
Anne Sinnott, who is lead researcher at Bail, described Dr
Beaver, now one of her fellow researchers, as articulate,
compassionate, brave, resilient and a wonderful communicator.
Her perspective, when it came to research, was both
scientific and personal, and she had no doubt she would end
up contributing to spinal-cord injury repair.
With a member of the local community affected by spinal-cord
injury, Cindy Douglas, of Dome Hills Station, said it was
something that was close to her heart.
A keen horsewoman who lived in rural New Zealand - where many
injuries were sustained - and also a mother with children
overseas, there were "so many reasons" for her to become
involved, she said.
She enthusiastically picked grapes each year at boutique
vineyard Ostler Wines, where money was given to The New
Zealand Spinal Trust based on the work of volunteer pickers.
She saw it as a "big-picture thing", saying you never knew
when a family member, friend or community member could be
Ms Sinnott agreed, saying "anyone can break their neck at any
time just doing the very things the rest of us do - driving
cars, riding horses, skiing down hills, riding mountain
Dr Snell said the Christchurch earthquakes had brought home
how vulnerable everyone was to experiencing significant
traumatic events, and it was not just a certain few in the
wrong place at the wrong time.
People needed to be aware and ensure they were adequately
covered, particularly if they travelled overseas. If they had
an accident, they might not have access to some of the
support on their return to New Zealand.
Bail focused on working hard to develop careers and pathways
for people who had sustained serious traumatic injuries.
It had a group of "stars" - young people who had suffered
terrible traumatic injuries that had caused a dramatic change
in their life, yet they were embracing a new pathway.
It had been a privilege to be able to work with Dr Beaver as
both a colleague and a friend, Dr Snell said.
Tickets are still available for The Team Carolyn Long Lazy
Lunch. They cost $120 per person and can be booked by
contacting Emma - sales @ostlerwine.co.nz.
Donations are also being accepted and can be made by either
emailing the same address, or contacting Cindy Douglas (03)