A multicoloured glint flashes from across the asphalt courts at Enner Glynn School. Benjamin Murphy, 7, has just finished up for the day and rolls towards the van that is waiting for him on the other side of the school.
He propels himself up the van’s ramp and into the back, helped by a carer. “See ya Ben,” another student says. Ben smiles and waves out the window. “See ya.”
It is part of a regular daily routine that has been years in the making.
This afternoon he will have a snack before heading off to physio and exercise. “I hope it’s boxing,” he says.
Benjamin was just two-years-old when he ran onto Main Road Stoke and was hit by a car after an appointment at Stoke Medical Centre.
He was flown to Christchurch Hospital and treated for brain bruising, concussion, a fractured jaw, liver laceration, lung contusion and broken femur.
But it took six weeks for doctors to realise that Benjamin also had serious spinal injuries.
Those days feel distant, his dad Simon says. They have come a long way.
These days Benjamin enjoys video games. Currently his favourite is a game where players control ‘Titans’, or giant mechanical exoskeletons in their mission to save mankind. It’s set at a nondescript time in the future.
“Benjamin is doing really well,” Simon says. “He blends in with other children and at that age they are really accepting, so he has quite a happy social life.”
Simon says even when he was young and in hospital, Benjamin still had a positive outlook on life.
“He wanted to focus on the here and now.”
But he is getting to the age where questioning is natural. He asks why he can’t do exercises like other kids, why he can’t run like other kids.
“He has had those low moments.”
Benjamin doesn’t remember the accident, but he knows his story. He doesn’t see it as a personal tragedy, he just knows the facts as they happened.
The spinal cord needs to be healthy and his got hurt badly. He now doesn’t have any feeling below his armpits, but that does mean he is able to wheel himself around.
The family knew that when he got his first wheelchair that he would want to put his stamp on it. Hence the rainbow wheels.
Simon says it’s difficult to bring his perspective to Ben’s situation.
“It’s me also being in this position for the first time. I say there is always a future. There are things that can happen that can improve the way we move our bodies and it doesn’t mean that you have to give up thinking about things that you want to do, but you do have to focus on the here and now. Translating that to a 7-year-old is a challenge.”
For the Murphy family, life has changed too. For three years after the accident everything was totally focused on Ben, so everything was put on pause.
But with the help of carers, teacher aides and friends and family they have had time to breathe, which they are incredibly thankful for.
“But we have got to a routine now that we are able to reflect on family life and have time for other things.”
Some things are still raw for Simon. Like when he drives past Stoke Medical Centre, or sees children playing by the side of the road.
“With time that sensation has diminished in its intensity but there is still an anxiety around it.”
Simon says he would really like Benjamin to connect with other people with similar injuries and at a similar age.
“I would like to see him having some sort of social interaction with people who are going through the same thing. Even older children who might be able to help him.”
But more than anything, Simon wants Benjamin to find that balance between acceptance and hope that one day he may walk again.
“It’s that balancing act in accepting the here and now but also that you might have the opportunity in the future, and medical technology is developing all the time.
“Acceptance can bring a sense of peace and hope. But don’t let go. There is a future and you have a lot of growing up to do.”
Benjamin may yet be a titan.