Harrowing tale of survival
Stroke of luck saved Anderson
Daniel Anderson has no recollection of the shocking bodysurfing accident that has left him a quadriplegic and almost killed him.
The former Parramatta Eels and New Zealand Warriors NRL coach was on a Central Coast family holiday in late December when he was dumped on a wave and suffered a catastrophic spinal injury.
He went into a cardiac arrest and had to be dragged semiconscious from the water.
It was only that two off-duty paramedics happened to be on the beach that his life was saved before he was airlifted to the spinal unit at Royal North Shore hospital.
Nearly five months later, Anderson is telling his remarkable story for the first time.
The 56-year-old has no memory of the accident at Soldiers Beach, near Norah Head.
“I was out bodysurfing with my brothers and their kids,” he says, “They’ve since filled me in on what happened. I caught a wave but got dumped on my head.
“I was dragged from the water unresponsive and then went into cardiac arrest.
“Thankfully there were a couple of off-duty paramedics on the beach and lifeguards. They brought me back.
“Then ambulance and police arrived. I was then taken to Warnervale where there is a small airport and airlifted to Royal North Shore.
“I’m very lucky the paramedics were there. I was obviously in a bad way. If they weren’t there, who knows how it would have finished up.”
X-rays would reveal severe compression of the spinal cord.
“I was classified as an incomplete quadriplegic,” Anderson said. “Incomplete means that you can get little bits back, but some things you never can.
“No one can tell you categorically what, if any movement you get back. But after four days I was wiggling my big toe.
“Right now I need assistance with everything, brushing my teeth, feeding, bathing, having a coffee.
“I’ve got slight movement in my right hand. Just enough to softly shake hands.
“Three weeks ago I couldn’t do that. It’s progress.”
We often talk of mental toughness and strength in rugby league. Anderson has got it in bucketloads.
“It was quite harrowing for my family,” Anderson said.
“I had a tough time those first four weeks. I didn’t sleep. You’re just staring at a clock all night.”
Wife Natalie and his four children, Alana, 26, Heather, 24, Cooper, 20, and Spencer, 18, are keeping him strong.
“Natalie has been my rock,” he says.
Anderson took the Eels and the Warriors to NRL grand finals and coached St Helens to win the UK Super League championship.
“You can’t equate this predicament to the pressures of coaching. But the mental strength you’ve got to have in tough times in football helps,” he said.
Anderson is now training two hours a day in a gym at the Royal Rehab centre in Sydney.
“When I say training, it’s all about mobility exercises,” he said. “I’ve got to try to learn how to get in and out of bed.
“You’ve got to learn how to use muscles again. You’ve got to learn to try to do the ordinary things in everyday life.”
His aim is to be back in the family home in eight weeks.
Anderson is still working as head of recruitment at the Sydney Roosters.
From the rehab centre he is doing 10 hours a week. He can’t type, but uses voice to text technology to write his emails.
The long-term plan is to get back to work at Roosters’ offices in Moore Park for two days a week.
“I love the job and they’ve been a wonderful support.”
Independent commission chairman Peter V’landys will launch a fundraising initiative at NRL headquarters on Monday.
Guests will include two-time premiership-winning coach Ivan Cleary, who was coached by Anderson at the Warriors, and representatives from the clubs he coached.
The aim is to provide ongoing financial support for essential equipment, home modifications and ongoing specialist physiotherapy.