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From Paralysed To Running 5kms: Andrew's Miraculous Recovery

From Paralysed To Running 5kms: Andrew's Miraculous Recovery

From Paralysed To A Marathon: Andrew's Miraculous Recovery

Andrew Leslie didn’t feel his body as he somersaulted through the air, nor did he feel the impact as he lay across a steep mountain bike trail, his legs dangling off the side. But he did hear the reassuring voice of Wellington Free Ambulance Rescue Squad Paramedic Brendan, telling him he was with him, and he was going to get him to safety.

Andrew Leslie with paramedics Jimmy Crombie and Brendan Harris

While he may not remember it, he did feel the care of Paramedic Jimmy administering pain-relief and anti-nausea medication, before he was carefully lifted from the bush trail to the rescue helicopter.

Those moments, while brief, had a lasting impact on Andrew. The quick response by the Wellington Free Ambulance team gave Andrew the best chance possible to make what can only be described as a miraculous recovery from his life-changing crash.

Andrew Leslie has always been an avid adventurer with a particular passion for trail running and mountain biking. As an experienced mountain biker, you would often catch him cycling in Poneke’s Makara Peak in the evenings.

One single moment changed everything for Andrew.

“I remember going over the handlebars, landing on my head, and at that point feeling my body go paralysed. I could sense that my body was moving through the air as I somersaulted, but I couldn’t really feel it. When I landed on the track, it was a really odd sensation,” Andrew explains.

“At this stage, I was finding it hard to breathe and I managed to get just enough air to let out some noise and manage to alert the next person on the track to stop. From there, a number of mountain bikers sprang into action, who stopped people from coming down the track, rang 111 and started looking after me.”

When that 111 call came in, Jimmy Crombie and Brendan Harris knew they needed to act, and fast.  

“The notes said he was paralysed and that it was a suspected spinal injury. We knew this was going to be serious, so we jumped in the four-wheel drive downstairs. Brendan didn’t even bother with his uniform, he was just in his suit and jumped straight into action,” Jimmy says.

“Jimmy and myself were first on scene. We drove the 4WD Rescue vehicle up a winding forestry track, we then selected our rescue equipment and walked up a steep twisting incline until we found Andrew’s location,” Brendan explains.

Wellington Free Ambulance Rescue Vehicle

 In the thirty minutes from the moment they had received the call, paramedics Jimmy and Brendan were at Andrew’s side. Clinging onto consciousness, Andrew was in a dire way.

The immediate threat was Andrew’s safety. Laying across a steep piece of track on a blind corner, a member of the public was tasked with stopping further mountain bikers from entering the track, so Jimmy and Brendan could perform their life-saving work.

“We assessed Andrew and quickly discovered that he had indeed sustained a suspected spinal injury. He was becoming hypothermic, and we had to reposition him as he had lost blood supply to his right arm. We immobilised Andrew, placed a hard collar to stabilise him, and provided pain relief. Andrew also had a concussion and was very repetitive, so we continued to reassure Andrew as best we could and keep him warm,” Brendan recalls.

“You must be careful and critical. Especially where he was and the terrain there, I cannot tell you how challenging it was. His type of injury is not very common, it is the only time in my 12-year career where I had come across this,” Jimmy explains.

With the help of a second rescue squad team, and the helicopter crew and paramedic Hannah Latta, Jimmy and Brendan were able to get Andrew safely secured in a helicopter bound to Wellington Airport. Due to the severity of his injuries, Andrew was immediately taken for specialist surgery at the Spinal Cord Impairment Centre in Christchurch Hospital.

“I cannot express how grateful I am to the people who helped me that day. The care that people gave to me, to the way the rescue was conducted with everyone involved. The mountain bikers, Jimmy and Brendan and Wellington Free Ambulance’s Rescue Squad, to the Helicopter crew… everyone absolutely came together and managed to get me safely in the helicopter, down to Christchurch to get me operated on 10 hours after the crash. It was quite an amazing response to what had happened, and it was crucial in my recovery,” Andrew says.

Due to the severity and height of his spinal injury, Andrew was classed as tetraplegic. However, because his spine had not severed, it meant he had more chance of making a recovery. Andrew had one goal in sight – when he was discharged, he wanted to walk out of hospital.

After three weeks in ICU and five months of rehabilitation in hospital, Andrew achieved just that.

Fast forward to today, over two years from that incident, and Andrew has progressed in leaps and bounds. From learning to breathe and walk again, he defied all odds, recently completing a five-kilometre marathon to commemorate the two-year anniversary since his crash.

Gaining nationwide media attention, his incredible efforts found their way to the paramedics who were the first to his aid, Jimmy and Brendan.

“I was amazed when I first saw Andrew in the media. I was skeptical that he would ever walk again, let alone run five kilometres. It really is testament to his own perseverance and recovery,” Jimmy says

It was this media article, which sparked a reunion between Andrew, Jimmy and Brendan. During his recovery, Andrew was knitting together of a patchwork of faded, distorted memories. He had spoken to the other mountain bikers who were by his side that day, visited the site where he crashed, and he only had a few more threads to tie up – one of those being meeting the Wellington Free Ambulance paramedics who saved his life.

“Often they don’t know what happens to the people they respond to, I felt like I owed it to them to show them the result of their work,” Andrew says.

“It was so awesome to meet them. What they did for me in terms of the care for me, and getting me up and out of there, meant I was getting operated on 10 hours after the crash, and that the damage around my spinal cord was able to be removed as quickly as possible which was major in my recovery. So first and foremost, I wanted to thank them for what they did,” Andrew explains.

“I fully credit Wellington Free Ambulance for the recovery I’m experiencing, I’m living proof of how vital their service is.”


For supporting Wellington Free Ambulance, enabling our crews like Jimmy and Brendan to respond to people in need, to making miraculous recoveries like Andrew’s possible, we cannot thank you enough. You can find out more about how you can support Wellington Free Ambulance for our 95th birthday, and keep our lifesaving work free of charge for another 95 years to come, by clicking here.



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