Refusal to give up after serious injury paved way to healing

Matt Hutchinson is back out in the hills hunting and doing what he loves. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Matt Hutchinson is back out in the hills hunting and doing what he loves. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
After a near-tragic accident in his early 20s, East Otago engineer and farmer Matt Hutchinson is grateful his stubborn attitude meant he did not listen to the advice of a top orthopaedic surgeon. He tells Alice Scott about his journey to recovery and doing things now he would never have dreamed possible.

It was the late 1990s, a drizzly, wet day on slippery East Otago hill country. Digger and dozer operator Matt Hutchinson was heading back to the yard after he and boss Geoff Scurr had taken a look at the site of their next contracting job.

Climbing back up a steep grassy slope, the truck lost traction as it reached the top.

"We started sliding backwards and then the truck went sideways and was heading down a ridge towards a steep drop-off. I just remember reaching for the door handle and trying to bail out as fast as I could," Mr Hutchinson said.

Mr Scurr, on the top side of the truck, got out safely, but Mr Hutchinson was on the bottom side and managed to get out only to get hooked up underneath the truck.

"I got dragged down the hill for a hundred metres or so before the truck rolled and I very luckily ended up in an under-runner as the truck rolled over the top of me."

As he came to, he knew his injuries were bad, but was unaware of just how bad.

"I had lost the skin off my back as I was dragged along the ground. Two of my ribs had popped out of their cartilage and I had a big gash on the back of my head. I also knew my leg was broken but didn’t realise the extent of it."

His left femur had been shattered and a large part of it had been sent up and out the back of his butt cheek. It took a long time for him to eventually be retrieved by a rescue helicopter and by that time he had lost over half of his blood.

After nearly a month in hospital and multiple surgeries to pin his leg back together, he returned home only to go downhill.

"I woke up and just felt like I was dying."

He had a bad infection in his bone that needed to be continually opened up, cleaned and drained.

"After a week I just didn’t seem to be getting any better and they said the only option left was to amputate my leg. At the time I didn’t care, I just wanted them to do something because I was so crook with the infection."

With a stroke of good luck he woke the next day feeling slightly better and slowly the infection cleared. However, the shattered pieces of bone did not heal despite the pins and rods. Finally, after a bone graft from his hip, his leg healed albeit 34mm shorter than his right one.

Despite being healed, the huge amount of scar tissue meant he lived with chronic pain in his hip.

Staying fit and active is important to Matt Hutchinson since he recovered from a farm accident...
Staying fit and active is important to Matt Hutchinson since he recovered from a farm accident and he enjoys doing sports events with his family. He is pictured with daughters Sophie, 14 (left), and Lucy, 10, and wife Hannah.
"It was so debilitating. I lived on painkillers and antibiotics. They told me there was nothing more they could do about it."

He decided to get a second opinion and paid to have a consultation with a top orthopaedic surgeon.

"He basically told me to hang my boots up, that I should move to town so I didn’t even have a lawn to mow. It was quite a depressing time and I remember I left that appointment feeling really gutted."

He knew giving up was not an option, Mr Hutchinson said.

"I loved the outdoors and hunting. It was all I had ever known in life, and I wasn’t prepared to let it all go."

He started to take note of what things were triggering his pain.

"I worked out that the more active I was, the better I felt."

He started walking to work and eventually had a change in career when the contracting business which he worked for was sold.

"Sitting in a machine was no good on the body, and when I got a job farming I was a lot more active."

He also works part-time for himself as an engineer fabricating aluminium dog boxes and doing other farm machinery repairs.

It was during the Covid-19 lockdown that he realised just how profound this newfound fitness could be. He started doing some home-based workouts with his wife Hannah, following along online with local gym-owner and personal trainer Katrina McAra and when lockdown was over he started going to the group fitness sessions.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that would be something I would get into, but I really started to notice a difference as I gained muscle strength. Katrina is great; there’s a few of us with special needs and she customises the workouts to suit us."

He then bought himself a bike.

"Biking is the best thing out. It is low impact on joints and it’s awesome for fitness and mental health."

In 2022, when his sister-in-law suggested he join her in a team and do the Coast to Coast, he immediately said yes.

"Road biking was something new to get my head around, but I did it and I loved it."

He has also competed in events including the Challenge Wanaka team event, Taieri Mouth multisport race, Motatapu off-road marathon and this year did the mountainbike category.

"Fitness has opened up so many new opportunities and experiences, plus it has got us active as a family and out there doing things together."

His advice for others who are living with chronic pain is to look for ways you can help yourself.

"Focus on what things you are doing that’s triggering the pain and what seems to help it and just really hone in on those two things. It isn’t an overnight fix and there are some really challenging times to push through, but staying positive helps. I made a bedside stand for my sports medals out of the pins and rods they put in my leg, which is my daily reminder to stay grateful and keeps me motivated to stay active."

 

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