Everything happens for a reason: Amputee reflects on journey
Des Barber should have been dead “a thousand times over” but he defied all medical odds and is still here to tell the tale.
While he lost his leg in a serious crash on Yeppoon Rd last year, Des loves to joke around and tell people he lost it in a crocodile or shark attack.
He even tells kids who look at him in his wheelchair when he is out and about that he lost his leg because he didn’t eat his vegetables.
The Rockhampton man was riding his motorcycle on Yeppoon Road on July 29, 2020, when he was involved in a crash with a Holden Commodore at The Oaks service station intersection.
Des sustained critical injuries in the crash including the loss of his right lower leg.
He was flown from the scene to Rockhampton Hospital by RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service and was then taken to a Brisbane hospital where he remained in a critical condition and unconscious for seven weeks.
In the space of four weeks he had 12 operations with one hip surgery taking four hours alone.
His list of injuries was exhaustive, from a pelvis which is now held together with screws and staples, to broken vertebrates and crushed heart, liver and bowel.
His femoral artery was bleeding out at the scene and he needed 36 bags of blood to survive.
Despite the extent of injuries, he was wearing all the right safety gear.
“Everything was busted, I have a list of injuries you wouldn’t believe anyone would survive,” Des said.
Looking back on the accident, Des surprisingly remembers bits and pieces.
He recalls lying on the ground, “bleeding to death” and thinking it didn’t hurt that much.
“I remember thinking that’s how it ends,” he said.
A truck driver by the name of Chris came to his rescue and put a tourniquet on his leg stump, where he was bleeding out from the loss of the lower half, and that was when the pain hit.
In the hospital he was told by doctors and other medical staff he should have died a “thousand times over”.
He was called a “stubborn bugger” by a surgeon.
“Realistically I should have been dead, they told me I was just one of those guys that refuses to die,” Des said.
After going between Brisbane and Rockhampton hospitals, he was finally released from hospital in December.
His first stop was the Keppel Bay Marina’s Waterline Restaurant, where he tucked into his favourite; eggs benedict with salmon, and a “decent coffee”.
Des commended the care he received while in hospital – and one nurse in particular who snuck him in mint patties.
“The nurses and doctors at the rehab at Rocky are the ones that keep me alive,” he said.
“They were terrific, they were like a second family to me all those girls.”
Des is the proud father of two children, Sammy and Chris, and is now living with his sister at Zilzie while he recovers and waits for modifications to his home.
“My family, without them I would have given up,” he said.
The crash made headlines for weeks across the Central Queensland community and Des was overwhelmed with support.
“I had people reaching out to me that their brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers had accidents... I had the strangest people say ‘don’t give up’ and I think all of that helped subconsciously,” he said.
Des recently got a prosthetic leg and has been busy doing rehab.
“I’m going to put a motorbike sticker on it,” he joked.
He also has an electric wheelchair coming which will be “really cool”.
Looking at life now with a different perspective, there is no holding the larrikin back.
“Losing a leg is bugger all now,” he said.
“It’s a completely different life than I expected to have, it’s just way life now is and I just readdress how I do things.
“There is a way to everything I have found, you’ve just got to work on it.
“It takes more than that to kill me.
“I am quite looking forward to life.
“Everything in life happens for a reason I will figure out the reason for this one in time.”
It has meant he has had to adjust how he does things but he has taken it in his stride.
“You just gotta check everything before you do anything,” he said.
“Make sure there is a disabled toilet - I didn’t think of that before.”
In Des’ eyes, there has been some perks to having a disability; people move out of the way for him at the shops and he gets a park right out the front of a cafe in the disabled spot.
“If you’re not laughing, you’re crying, it’s a lot easier to be laughing,” he said.
The experience has also taught him the kindness of society and strangers.
“The thing you realise, I never realised that people were as nice as they are,” he said.
“I’ve had so many people that just want to help and I have never noticed it until now.”
He still loves motorbikes but said he would never buy another one because his family ‘would murder him’.
“I rode them for 46 years,” he said.
“And I have had one accident with a car in 46 years and it was a beauty.
“If I bought another motorbike my sister or mother would beat me to death.”