What A Cure For Spinal Injuries Could Mean For Aussies Like Alex McKinnon

As a new dad to a baby girl, former NRL player Alex McKinnon recently had a profound realisation.

The 27-year-old quadriplegic was talking with wife Teigan, when conversation turned to their daughter’s future wedding and what that day may look like.

It may be decades away, but in McKinnon’s mind, imagining that day set a goal and sparked a fire for the here and now.

“One day I might be able to walk her down the aisle," he told 10 News First.

It kind of hit me for six to be honest because I’ve never even thought about the possibility of doing that.

Before suffering a career-ending spinal injury during a tackle in the 2014 NRL season, the promising young footballer was familiar with a gruelling fitness regime.

Five years later, in very different circumstances, he’s again challenging himself again, undergoing rehabilitation three days a week.

PHOTO: 10 News First

“It allows me to be in the best possible position to maybe one day walk again,” he said.

“Just in case something comes along, whether it’s research or whether it’s funding.”

And it appears he has reason to be optimistic.

Researchers are so confident the world is on the cusp of discovering a cure for spinal cord injury they say it’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’. Now, that confidence has been delivered a timely boost with a significant funding injection.

Next Tuesday’s NSW Budget will include $15 million for spinal cord research.

READ MORE: Record $15 Million For Spinal Research In NSW State Budget

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Health Minister Brad Hazzard personally broke the news to members of the peak advocacy and fundraising body SpinalCure Australia last week. Both sides have described it as an emotional meeting.

“They always hope that they can regain feeling, regain function, potentially walk again and if the Government can use this money to make a difference, what an amazing thing that would be,” Perrottet said.

One person is injured each day in Australia, joining the more than 15,000 who already live with paralysis from a spinal cord injury. SpinalCure Australia has estimated the cost to the national economy is $2.5-$3 billion each year in direct care and economic losses.

PHOTO: Getty Images

Next Tuesday’s announcement will be the most significant funding boost to research in NSW since quadriplegic actor Christopher Reeve visited Sydney in 2003. During his stay, then Premier Bob Carr announced $20 million using revenue from speed cameras.

READ MORE: Christopher Reeve's Grown Up Son Hopes His Parents Are Proud

“We are overjoyed that they’ve realised the need for funding in this space now,” Executive Director of SpinalCure Australia Duncan Wallace said.

When it comes to spinal cord injury and finding a cure, it really is no longer a matter of if, it’s a matter of when and this funding could be a real game-changer in our world.

Someone who knows that ‘world’ intimately is Australian television legend and Studio 10 host Kerri-Anne Kennerley.

She became a passionate advocate for research to find a cure after her husband John was left paralysed from the neck down in a freak accident.

He’d been trying to take a photo, when he tripped and fell over a garden hedge at a golf resort in March 2016. It was a life-altering moment for both of them.

Kerri-Anne Kennerley and her husband John Kennerley in 2017. PHOTO: Getty Images

Writing for 10 daily, Kennerley described her husband's injury as "catastrophic", and said that living with quadriplegia "the most undignified imprisonment". She spoke openly of the daily tasks required to help him live, noting how even a common cold could be a miserable experience: "Quads can't cough, they can't blow their nose and, of course, this can so easily turn into pneumonia."

READ MORE: Kerri-Anne Kennerley: At Last, A Premier With The Backbone To Deliver On Spinal Care

John Kennerley passed away earlier this year age 78 – Kerri-Anne and his son Simon were by his side.

To honour his legacy, Kerri-Anne made a personal plea to the NSW Premier. After first approaching Gladys Berejiklian at an event they both attended late last year, the pair recently met again at the Government’s Martin Place offices.

“I was elated,” Kennerley said.

“This is the biggest, biggest thing to happen for the treatment and research for people who can’t walk, with quadriplegia, paraplegia.

“It is absolutely vital. We are within reach of a cure. It’s too late for my John but I know how pleased he would be, knowing what he went through for three-and-a-half years.”

The $15 million dollars will be delivered over five years and allocated to research projects through a competitive tender process.