The outcome of a star footballer's tackle earlier this year proved how the trajectory of a life can change in an instant, leaving a young Ballarat Football League player partially paralysed and left to grapple with what his future will look like.
The football and wider community was shocked after Dyson Stevens was seriously injured after laying a tackle during a game earlier this year, prompting a wide-spread outpouring of love and funds for his rehabilitation and to set him up for his future.
On Saturday, May 8, Dyson was on the field for the Melton Bloods in a game against the Darley Devils.
The talented forward's family and girlfriend were in the crowd at Darley to watch the promising young player.
His sister, Ebony Stevens, said it wasn't a common occurrence for the whole family to be able to make it to one of Dyson's games as herself, sister Brodie and her partner Krissy all play football themselves with dad, Jeff, their coach.
Early in the game Dyson, lovingly known as 'Disco', laid a tackle but after crashing head-first to the ground he failed to pull himself back up. This moment has haunted his family and all who saw it.
"It happened right in front of a crowd of people, including his friends, family and myself," his girlfriend, Emily Dervan, said.
"Initially I thought it was a concussion or his shoulder, based on the way he fell. As soon as there was no response from him we knew something was terribly wrong."
His loved ones' fears were realised when the normally perky and energetic Dyson did not "get up and run off to the bench" as he had done on other occasions he had been injured during a game.
Ebony saw trainers rush to her brother and "instantly knew how serious it was" when they looked at her with worry marking their faces.
"I refused to cry in front of Dyson as I didn't want to worry him," she remembered.
The game was suspended for almost an hour as paramedics treated Dyson on the ground, before he was transported to the Royal Melbourne Hospital where an x-ray was performed.
Emily remembers rushing to the hospital with a number of his friends and trying to beat the ambulance before anxiously sitting in the waiting room for hours on end waiting for an update about his condition.
From there Dyson was transported by ambulance to the Austin Hospital for emergency surgery to remove the crushed vertebrae from his spinal cord.
He had damaged his C4 vertebrae and shattered the C5, severely damaging his spinal cord.
"That night was probably the worst night's sleep I ever had. I didn't understand what was going on and was trying to do my own research trying to understand what had happened - I was confused and in disbelief," Emily said.
Following this surgery he was placed in an induced coma until his second surgery, in which doctors inserted a cage to act as his vertebrae to hold his spine together.
"Dyson was so strong and we knew he was a fighter when he started waking up every so often from the coma, fighting off the medication the doctors were giving him," Ebony said.
Dyson doesn't remember those days, explaining that "time just passed".
Dyson spent three weeks at the Austin Hospital, with a week in the intensive care unit and two weeks in recovery in the spinal ward as he started to recover from the horrific neck injury.
The six months since the freak incident have been "hard" for Dyson and his family. He said his emotions had been very "up and down".
"Not only dealing with my injury but understanding it too - learning everyday how to push my body and relearn how to move, touch and feel again," he said.
After several weeks Dyson was moved to the Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre, where he remains today.
He is booked in to have a third surgery in mid-January and hopes the nerve and tendon transfer will offer a chance for him to regain some function in his wrists, triceps and hands.
Though he understands he may never fully physically recover as he is completely paralysed in his hands and from his waist down, he has worked incredibly hard to regain movement in his biceps, shoulders and neck during the last few months.
My body moves and responds differently now. I may not be able to ever physically recover to how my body moved before, but I'm still the same person - same man.- Dyson Stevens
"My body moves and responds differently now," Dyson said. "I may not be able to ever physically recover to how my body moved before, but I'm still the same person - same man."
Just a few months ago Emily would need to lift up his arms and wrap them around herself for him to hug her but he can now extend his arms, wrap them around Emily and squeeze her tight on his own.
"You learn to appreciate the little things you take for granted - whether it's being held, touched or the ability to feel skin-on-skin," she said.
The 28-year-old described himself as a loud, outgoing, active and hardworking man.
"My life before my accident was based around enjoying life and having fun," he said. "I loved sport, especially football, gym and partying with my friends and spending time with my family.
"I worked hard on the football field and in the gym. I woke up at 4:30am every morning to go to the gym before work, head to work for the day and then straight to football training at night.
"I loved being out having fun. Going to the pub, parties, sporting events, motorbike riding, driving the boat and riding the jet skis at my caravan. I loved my life."
The process of living in hospitals for six months has been made more difficult due to being isolated from the vast majority of his family and friends due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Emily said she and Dyson had ridden "the highs and lows together".
Not long before the accident Emily embarked on a new career in the emergency services, so it has been a challenge to balance being there for Dyson as well as continuing to work to support them both.
"He was my drive to continue and complete my training," she said.
Though it was not easy. More recently Dyson was only allowed one visitor each day and with Emily designated the role, she made a concerted effort to see him before or after work each day.
"Being the only person able to visit the hospital with an exemption, I made sure that Dyson didn't miss out on seeing me," she said.
While the experience has changed their relationship in many ways, she said it had also served to strengthen and deepen their bond.
"Dyson's going through the hardest point of his life and we're still having the best of fun together in the environment he's in - we're extremely happy. Our time together has been special, for sure."
Not being able to see Dyson more recently has been incredibly hard for his family and Ebony described it as being "a crazy, up and down roller coaster".
"At the beginning it was only heading down for me but now that Dyson is in a good place I feel as if we're only going up now," Ebony said.
She also feels like her relationship with her brother "has never been stronger".
"I know the whole family has struggled through this time but we've also seen the best in people and our community as well, none of us would've known how many amazing people we had around us and helping us when in need, so I can definitely say that was one of the good things that came out of these last six months."
After months of work and pushing his body, Dyson is eager to leave the four walls of the centre, located in Kew, and return home soon.
Many preparations are underway for this milestone, including employing a team of carers to help him every morning and evening.
My life's going to be different - there are a lot of activities I did before that I won't be able to do now. I am hopeful there's things I can still do, but just in different ways- Dyson Stevens
"My life's going to be different - there are a lot of activities I did before that I won't be able to do now. I am hopeful there's things I can still do, but just in different ways," Dyson said.
His house is being renovated to accommodate for the space and equipment he will require when he returns home.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme has secured items for Dyson including a ramp for the front door and a wheelchair and shower chair. It has also secured a special bed and a hoist to lift him out of it.
Dyson's family is also renovating their shed to create a "man cave" for Dyson, so he has a private area with plenty of wheelchair space when friends visit.
His family is currently fundraising for a wheelchair friendly vehicle to help Dyson move around and live his life.
Emily said such a vehicle would help Dyson get to the gym, rehabilitation, the shops, sporting events, football games, coaching or to visit his family and friends.
"It will be beneficial for our day-to-day lives. It will give us the flexibility to take him anywhere he wants.
"It will make an extraordinary difference to all of our lives. We want to buy a vehicle we can all use and transport Dyson in."
Since Dyson's accident he and his family have received an "overwhelming" outpouring of emotional and financial support from both the football and wider community around Ballarat and in Melbourne.
"I am extremely grateful for all the work and support people have provided," Dyson said.
"It's amazing how far my story has travelled and how much people who don't even know me want to help.
"I'm forever grateful to my family, friends and my girlfriend who have stood by me during the darkest time of my life - they have saved me."
Dyson is "stoked" to be returning to the game he loves after being offered a coaching position at Deer Park next year.
To donate to the fundraiser, visit: www.gofundme.com/f/funding-for-a-wheelchair-friendly-vehicle?qid=aa31529a027fc4746581d14996d6fe86
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