Wellington tetraplegic 'miracle man' walking one year on from accident

Exactly one year ago Wellington cyclist Andrew Leslie was paralysed after crashing his mountain bike. Today he returned to the scene of his crash - on foot.

Overcome with emotion standing in the spot where he nearly died Leslie had friends there to support him - and to tell him more about what happened that day.

The avid cyclist crashed at the bottom of a rocky drop, the impact crushing his spinal cord.

"My helmet has indents in it from the rocks."

He remembers his body instantly going numb. 

"I could feel myself touching the ground but the rest of my body felt like it was floating." 

Fellow cyclist Russ Garlick was one of the first on the scene and joined Leslie today, as he visited the crash site for the first time.

Garlick remembers how he knew something wasn't right. 

"You could tell by the way he was lying, he wasn't moving and was very still."

After the crash, Leslie was flown to Christchurch's Burwood spinal unit. He was in an induced coma when New Zealand went into the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown. 

"The dreams I was having were clearly affected [by COVID-19], the dreams were about dystopian futures where viruses had wiped out humans.

"I woke up a week later and the world had gone crazy." 

He also woke up a tetraplegic - paralysed from the neck down. 

Andrew Leslie returned to his crash site a year on - on foot.
Andrew Leslie returned to his crash site a year on - on foot. Photo credit: Newshub

On a scale of spinal injury impairment where 'A' is the most severe - he was a 'B'.

"My family were being told to expect me to be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life."

But because his spine wasn't severed, he knew he could regain some movement and spent hours re-learning how to walk. 

"That whole process of learning to walk is so complicated - and when the messages aren't coming through from brain to muscles." 

When he started physio, he had only just begun to breathe on his own.

Four months later he walked out the door, his physio Anna Kariuki calling him the "miracle man." 

"Andrew was probably the most dramatic example of that quick neurological recovery - hence I called him the miracle man."

"We're very lucky in NZ to have a system like ACC," Leslie added, "they've helped me right throughout recovery."

A recovery that led him back to his crash site.

"I wanted to come back here and see it and put it to bed really."

Now that's done - this week he plans to get back on his bike for the first time.