Master of Physiotherapy (Musculoskeletal) - University of Queensland 2017
A post-graduate degree i.e. an additional 2 years of study focusing on the assessment and treatment of complex conditions
A 4 year undergraduate degree focusing solely on physiotherapy.
Bachelor of Applied Science in Physiotherapy - University of Sydney 2006
A Most Unexpected Fall.
The story of the fastest abseil in Bullant history.
by Jason Wheeler
On Sunday 2nd December I did Jugglers canyon at Blackheath with my good friend Mule, a fellow member of the Bullant Bush Running Club. We’ve safely completed many canyons together over the years and there was no reason to expect that this would be any different. The conditions were great and our plan was to undertake Grand Canyon after we finished Jugglers.
After a series of routine 5-10m abseils we neared the final 20m abseil. Mule packed away the rope while I walked ahead towards the next abseil. With the cliff wall to my left and the 20m drop to my right I walked towards a tree that would serve as an anchor for our ropes. The ground was covered in patches of grass, so when I placed my right foot down at the cliff edge I expected there would be something solid under the grass as there had been everywhere else. To my complete shock it turned out there was nothing but air under that particular patch of grass! And so down I plunged. I turned to my left in a desperate attempt to grab anything that would save me but I was literally clutching at straws of grass and rock.
The next thing I knew I was in free-fall and sunlight gave way to the darkness of the canyon. It was the closest I’ve ever come to an
Even though Mule didn’t see me fall he reckoned he heard 4 distinct impacts and initially thought I’d dropped my pack as I’d only uttered a faint cry. If only that was all that happened. The impact of hitting the ground winded and immobilised me.
Having landed in a shallow pool of water I could only look up in disbelief at the cliff that I’d walked along moments ago. There was no loss of consciousness and I’d managed to avoid hitting my head. I looked down and noticed my left knee was severely disfigured, appearing to be dislocated. I slid myself carefully backwards to get out of the water, managing to move about a metre, before I called out for help.
Mule abseiled down the cliff the traditional way (using a rope!) and ran over to assess the damage. He too was stunned by what had just happened and the sight of me, but remained calm. From the mangled sight of my left leg I expected that I’d broken my femur as well, but was relieved that I could still feel and move my left foot and toes. Seemingly there was no spinal cord injury. Breathing was feeling laboured so there were definitely going to be some broken ribs and potentially a punctured lung.
Fortunately there was another group of canyoners a mere 10 minutes behind us. They were all in their 60s and looked very fit and experienced. Mule stayed with me, along with Sue (a retired GP) and Joy (an absolute angel), while the third member of the group, Bob, went to call for help. Typically there is no mobile reception in a canyon and this often extends into the surrounding bushland. Juggler was no exception.
I gladly accepted a panadol from Sue, which I figured was better than nothing. She monitored my vitals and did a systems-check: my leg was badly banged up but she was reassured that I hadn’t gone into shock. I was changed into a thermal top and given a space blanket for warmth. I rested my head on Joy’s leg for support and we chatted about all sorts of things to keep me distracted from my situation. My wedding at Evans Lookout, 3 weeks earlier, was a hot topic for discussion. The next 2 hours saw a gradual decline in my condition, although Sue did a great job of giving me the “good news” and keeping the “bad news” to herself. Thanks to the incredible, all-natural powers of adrenaline, my pain was only moderate.
A chopper passed overhead which I thought was my salvation until it was soon diverted to another emergency on the Colo River. This made me lose some hope. Another 2 hours saw the first paramedics to arrive by foot. They'd hiked to the end of the canyon to where I’d fallen fully loaded with all their emergency gear. These are truly extraordinary people! Jen the paramedic loaded me up with morphine and fitted a splint to my leg. The extent of my injuries was still unclear, but one thing was certain...morphine was some good stuff!
More rescuers were arriving including the Police, SES and RFS. Eventually another chopper arrived, dropping off more paramedics and a stretcher. In the hours since my fall, it had become a very windy day. This quickly drained the choppers' fuel, thereby forcing it to fly to Bankstown to refuel before coming back to wait at the old Katoomba Airport until I could be moved to a clearing.
I was carefully transferred to the chopper stretcher and the team of 15 rescuers passed me hand-over-hand along 200m of undulating single track. After making it to the clearing, and a few attempts by the chopper to reach us, it was determined that there were still too many trees hindering access. Unfortunately 4 trees had to be felled by chainsaw to provide easier access for the chopper (my wife and I have since planted a number of trees to replace those that were cut down). After 7 hours I was finally able to be winched into the chopper.
It was a quick flight to Westmead Public Hospital where it was all hands on deck to assess the damaged. I was cleared of any neck/head injuries which was a huge relief with a 9 month old son at home recently discovering how much faster he could travel when up on his feet as compared to crawling!
The initial relief of not having head/neck injuries, was soon replaced with the hard reality of the extensive injuries that I had sustained. These included:
Left knee - avulsion left anterior cruciate ligament, ruptured medial collateral ligament, ruptured posterior cruciate ligament, torn/flipped medial/lateral menisci, ruptured patella tendon.
Left sacro-iliac joint - 3mm subluxation due to ligamentous rupture.
Fractured left ribs 8-12
Bilateral pneumothoraces (partially collapsed both lungs)
Fractured spinous processes (lumbar spine) L2 and L3
Plus one (very) bruised ego
To date I've had 3 surgeries:
Application of external fixation frame to my left knee as it was completely unstable
2 stainless steel screws to stabilise the SIJ
Left knee reconstruction of everything except the PCL
It was hoped that by 18 months I would be able to walk without a significant limp. I was told to remove all thoughts of returning to the sports I'd been playing and to forget about getting back to running. Apparently competing in ultra-races was to be a thing of the past now. Hearing this was devastating and my mind wandered to some dark places at times while recovering. With a huge amount of support from my wife, family, friends and the medical community I’ve made a lot of progress since being wheelchair bound when discharged from hospital. The experience has shown me who my true friends are in how they’ve supported myself and my wife Jess, throughout this awful situation. In particular I have to thank everyone involved in placing bets as to who would walk first, my son, Jett, or myself. The majority backed my son, which re-ignited my competitive nature and sense of humour. I wasn't going to let Jett win without a fight!
I'm ecstatic to say that not only am I back walking now, I'm also back running (albeit much slower and doing shorter distances than previously). I'm very aware that some of my injuries have lasting effects and I will be more prone to developing conditions in the future, but despite all of this I’m reveling in everything that I do these days and am beyond grateful to have survived the fall and be able to run around with my beloved son, and watch my gorgeous baby daughter discover the simple joys in life. I will also be forever grateful for my wife, Jess, who has been my rock. For a very long time she was a full time carer for not only me, but our baby son as well. Throughout all of this she has given me unwavering love and support, especially in my darkest moments when I’ve dealt with severe chronic pain and demons about what the future could look like.
Having had this experience I feel that I have gained significant insight and understanding into the impact of serious injuries, chronic pain, the intricacies of long-term rehabilitation, accidents or injuries resulting in interruptions to full-time work and the impact that can have on one's life and their family. Additionally I have learnt and experienced the impact all of these can have on ones mental health. My aim is to use my knowledge as a physiotherapist, as well as my personal lived experiences, to help my patients through their own recovery journey with a compassionate, open and honest approach.