Seventy-three-year-old Allen McGrath has been a quadraplegic since May 1949.
Seventy-three-year-old Allen McGrath has been a quadraplegic since May 1949.

Too-old quads left to die

ALLEN McGrath had just turned 17 when he had the accident that changed his life.

He had picked up a hack for exercise and was riding it bareback when he fell off coming down an embankment, rolling over his horse's head and landing on his skull.

He woke up three weeks later unable to use either his arms or his legs.

Today the happy-go-lucky young stablehand is Australia's oldest surviving quadraplegic and the patriarch of Coffs Harbour's AQA House, a group house modified for the needs of quadraplegics and paraplegics by the Department of Housing.

Mr McGrath shares the fourbedroom house not only with fellow quadraplegic Bob Mackenzie but with spinal injury patients who use the house for respite care.

He also shares the house with a stream of helpers who flow in and out of the house to help the quads cope with daily life.

The quads in turn have to cope with the problems of help that may arrive twice, late or not at all and with the crises at weekends or at night when there is no help except 000.

Visiting AQA House, the space is the first thing you notice. Doors slide widely, halls and kitchen are spacious and there are no changes of level.

Quads need a lot of room to manoeuvre their wheelchairs, accommodate their special beds, their teams of carers and the bulky equipment that helps to make tasks like showering and toileting possible.

The relays of carers, a constantly-changing parade of faces, means that the home feels less like a private house than an unusual form of boutique accommodation.

But it's a whole lot better than a nursing home, he said.

Allen McGrath can speak with feeling and bitter experience about accommodation for quads.

Initially 'left to die' after his accident, he refused to do so with the gritty determination that remains with him today as he fights both the problems of his spinal injury and new health problems like a bad hip and failing sight.

He has lived in two different Sydney nursing homes as a relatively young man, and he remembers vividly the lack of privacy and the confused old people invading his space and even climbing into his bed; the unpleasant smells and sounds, the staff who were unfamiliar with spinal injury care, the bathrooms that were distant and difficult to use and an institution wholly unsuited to his needs.

He is horrified by the plight of fellow Coffs Harbour quadraplegic James Wicks, 52, injured in a fall last year. Mr Wicks is threatened with life in a Sydney nursing home because he has been deemed 'too old' to get help to live at home under the Attendant Care Scheme.

Allen McGrath, who is 73, thinks that argument is ridicu- lous.

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