“I knew I’d been paralysed”, doctor’s inspiring story
WHEN Dinesh Palipana was involved in a horrific car crash that left him without feeling or movement from the chest down, he knew instantly what no one would tell him - he was paralysed.
As a medical student at Griffith University he understood only too well what had just happened on that fateful day in 2010.
But in the months and years that followed he also realised that his disability didn't mean he couldn't achieve his goal of becoming a doctor.
"I knew I'd been paralysed before anyone even mentioned it to me," he said. "Even in the ambulance, the first thing that occurred to me was that I still needed to get this medicine degree done and to get on with my career. That was so important to me."
Mr Palipana's spine was dislocated at the neck and he spent seven months in a hospital spinal unit in Brisbane.
"It was a dark time of my life but I knew I had to make the best of what I was left with," he said. "I had some great friends around me and wonderful support from my mum, who has really given up so much of her life for me."
He and mum, Chithrani, returned to Sri Lanka for three years to reassess what to do with his life.
"I met some great people there who kept my enthusiasm for life alive. They knew I was still interested in a medical career and they encouraged me to keep in contact with the Griffith School of Medicine," he said.
When he got back to the Gold Coast, he rejoined the medical school and has never looked back.
Now a valued member of the dedicated emergency department team at Gold Coast University Hospital, Dr Palipana, 34, has become a key leader in the fight for more opportunities for doctors with disabilities as spokesman for Doctors With Disabilities Australia.
"We believe Australian policies for medicine, particularly in medical education, have taken backwards steps in recent years to become more exclusive," Dr Palipana said.
"Australian doctors, medical students and aspiring medical students with disabilities face significant challenges when navigating the medical landscape for education, specialty training and employment."
Dr Palipana's own experience as only the country's second quadriplegic doctor is proof of what can be achieved.
He was awarded the title of 2018 Junior Doctor of the Year at the Gold Coast University Hospital and Health Service and was also awarded an OAM last month.
"I love it. It's hectic but we have such a great team," he said. "We work hard and there is pressure but I enjoy that.
"I can honestly say 100 per cent of my interactions with patients have been positive."
Although classified a quadriplegic, Dr Palipana, who also lectures at Griffith Medical School, has some feeling on the outside of his forearms and can get around in his wheelchair without help.
"It does take me longer than most to get myself ready in the morning and I need help for that, but as far as medical duties go, I can carry out a good medical examination and a consultation on a patient," he said.
"My challenges have been structural. The work has been easy, particularly with a very supportive emergency department."
Dr Palipana pointed out that training doctors who had overcome adversity could also help inspire patients.
"I've had patients say. 'When I walked into the room and I saw you, I knew you would understand'," he said.
"Moments like that are very special."