A steep learning curve

A photo of the Enniss family

Twelve years ago, when Smithton’s Telina Enniss first heard that her teenaged daughter had been in a car accident, she thought it would be minor and “everything would be fine”. She had no idea what a complex and challenging time lay ahead for the family.

“Even when I was told that Jac’s neck had been broken, I thought it was fixable,” she says. “When they explained that she would never walk again, I lost it – it was a total shock.”

Jac was rushed from Smithton to the nearest hospital in Burnie for surgery. She was then flown to Melbourne to the Trauma Centre at the Alfred Hospital for further surgery.

“They gave her a 20 per cent chance of survival. At this point we were told that that she had C4 quadriplegia but that there had been no damage to her brain,” said Telina. “We weren’t given any more information or counselling, so I found out from Google that people were not expected to live for more than five years with this condition.”

Navigating a new life

Telina stayed in Melbourne with Jac for the next 8 months. During this time Jac was transferred to the Austin hospital and the family was provided with counselling for the first time. Jac was moved in and out of ICU as she faced new health challenges and went through more rounds of surgery.

“It was so hard, navigating this new life,” Telina explained. “I would meet up with my 11 year old son Alex and my husband Rodney every other weekend. Alex didn’t miss a beat, but looking back it’s amazing that our marriage survived,” she said.

A steep learning curve

Telina describes Jac’s care as a steep learning curve for everyone in Tasmania, including doctors, hospital staff and carers.

“After Jac returned from Melbourne she spent a four-week transitional period in hospital where she trained a group of carers in how to support her,” she said.

The next step in her recovery was a move into Lomandra, the purpose-built facility owned by the MAIB and managed by Anglicare. She stayed here for two years while a unit was built onto the end of her parents’ house.

“I don’t think the staff had ever worked with someone with such high needs before. It soon became clear that I had to become part of Jac’s care team so I moved in with her,” Telina said. “This was a very hard time for our relationship. Jac was anxious and angry and I could understand that. I also encouraged her to feel grateful for the things she got to do before her accident, like run around, dance and ride a bike.”

Learning together

Telina was still heavily involved in Jac’s personal care when she was finally able to move back to Smithton into her new unit. There have been many setbacks and times when Telina has had to advocate strongly for her daughter.

“Today things have moved forward. Jac has just turned 30. She has her own cat. She is a huge reader like she was before the accident and she loves going to the movies. She is on the interview panel for new carers – I’m so proud of her.

“The Anglicare carers all have have a ‘can-do’ attitude but they’re also laid-back. They are a brilliant fit. They get her. They think she’s amazing, so bright and bubbly. Watching them cook together is a beautiful process. They pick flowers for her from her garden, take her for walks and help her make her unit look homely, not clinical.”

Telina says the Anglicare team is learning skills that they can take to other clients. Jac also enriches the lives of other people.

“Jac is the biggest Christmas nut in the world. She has all the decorations, the reindeer, all the kit and caboodle. We start preparing in October. One of her carers said she wasn’t into Christmas but now she goes to the same effort with her own family.

“Now Jac and her team come together for Christmas lunch and I’m not invited. I’m very happy we’ve got to this point.

“Anglicare stepped up and it’s to their credit that I can now step away and feel comfortable about it. I’ve recently returned to working at the local supermarket – I enjoy being around people and I love it,” she said.

“At the same time, Anglicare understands that we are a very close family and we’re part of the package. This is our home, too. I’m in and out of Jac’s unit like a yo-yo and that’s okay,” said Telina.

 We’re moving forward and we are all learning together.


Read Jac’s perspective here.

For more information on spinal injury, visit the Spinal Cord Injuries Australia website.

Photo caption:

The Enniss family (from left) Jessica, Telina, Jac, Alex and Rodney.


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