Brave Maija is determined to battle back despite horrific, crippling injuries

Maija Vance, with Toro: “I’ve decided I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair”

Maija Vance hopes to be leaving hospital before Christmas. The 27-year-old New Zealand jockey has been in the Otara Spinal Unit in Auckland since late September after spending ten days in the city’s Middlemore Hospital, where she was treated for the extensive injuries she suffered after her mount Zedsational crashed at the second-last fence at Nerw Zealand’s Rotorua on September 16. 

Two of her vertebrae in her spine were fractured with another three out of line and she underwent a four-hour operation to have rods and a metal plate inserted. 

She also suffered two punctured lungs, several broken ribs, facial injuries including six broken teeth, and she almost bit her tongue off during the smash. 

Each day her parents, former jockeys and trainers Bob and Jenny, have been at her bedside and she is looking forward to being released from the Spinal Unit to live with them in Papakura, Auckland. 

“I’m planning to go home in a month, depending on the renovations being done for me,” Vance said. “I really want to get home.” 

Vance has made steady progress over the last month or so and said she is now more independent in her electric wheelchair. 

“When I first got put in it I couldn’t sit upright without passing out,” she said. “Now I can transfer from the bed to the wheelchair by myself. 

“As the broken ribs have started to heel I’ve got more movement in my upper body, but my back still restricts what I can do with the rods through seven vertebrae. 

“I’ve got no feeling in my waist and have been having daily injections to help prevent blood clots. There are patches of hyper-sensitivity in my left leg but it doesn’t move. My right leg, I can control a bit but there’s a numb and dull sensation.” 

Vance has been undergoing physiotherapy at the Otara unit and has requested to have the sessions increased. “Lately I’ve been having two or three sessions of physio per day,” she said. “I’ve decided I’m not going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair and I’m determined to do what I can to walk again.” 

A daily visitor for Vance is Toro, her mini long-haired dachshund. 

“Dad brings him in every morning when he comes after trackwork and Mum takes him home at night after she has been in the afternoon,” Vance said. “He sits on my lap in the electric wheelchair and if he’s not there he’s lying beside me on the bed. 

“When he first came in I told the hospital staff he was a soft toy. I love seeing him each day. He makes me feel better.” 

Vance’s positive attitude and drive has also been helped by the constant flood of well wishes from friends, colleagues, racing folk and people far and wide all concerned about the popular rider, who has enjoyed success in Queensland and South Australia as well as 94 wins in New Zealand. 

Grace Willoughby, a Queensland jockey and Vance’s former flatmate, is one of those friends who has gone that little bit extra to help Vance. Earlier this month she set up this website page and the fund has raised more than $24,000, while Social Racing also started off a promotion to help her. 

“I’m so grateful to everyone,” she said. “I’m overwhelmed by all the support for me.”

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