Former truck driver Heath is fighting fit

By: Tamara Whitsed, Photography by: Tamara Whitsed


Heath Bartels-Waller thrives on regular exercise despite a truck accident injury that left him with quadriplegia.

Former truck driver Heath is fighting fit
Candice and Heath Bartels-Waller were newlyweds when Heath was injured in 2008.

 

Heath Bartels-Waller is healthy and fit – no mean feat considering he is living with quadriplegia.

In 2008 Bartels-Waller fell asleep driving a truck near Rockhampton. A C5 spinal injury left him with no movement or feeling in his legs. He could move his arms but they were weak and clumsy.

"I couldn’t bring my hand to my nose," says Bartels-Waller, who was only 24 when the accident happened.

It was devastating for his wife Candice and their baby daughter, Izzy.

Bartels-Waller has seen countless physiotherapist and occupational therapists since the accident.

He says the best therapists encouraged him to feed himself and push a manual wheelchair. This helped him slowly improve strength and coordination in his arms.

Several therapists initially only encouraged upper-body exercises, but he insisted his legs should not be ignored.

WorkCover provided a functional electrical stimulation (FES) bike which activates his leg muscles to perform a pedalling movement.

Bartels-Waller uses it in his home in Holbrook, New South Wales, twice a week.

Wary of people offering false hope, Bartels-Waller describes himself as a ‘realist’ rather than a ‘positive thinker’. He believes medical advancements will one day enable people with his level of C5 injury to walk again but accepts this might not happen in his lifetime.

Meanwhile he aims to regain as much ability and independence as possible through his regular exercise regime.

In 2013 Bartels-Waller regained his driver’s licence. Since then he has twice driven a modified car to Burleigh Heads, Queensland, to attend an exercise-based spinal cord injury recovery program at Making Strides.

He says the program increased his strength and fitness which made it easier to transfer from his wheelchair to beds, seats and cars.

And his balance improved so much he was able to use a robotic ReWalk exoskeleton as part of his therapy.

The program is not covered by WorkCover so Heath puts away money each week and hopes to save enough to return to Making Strides later this year.

 

You can read about the family’s challenges and triumphs in the June issue of Owner//Driver magazine.

 

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