In 2016, Bailley Unahi was among a group of university students forced to the ground when a balcony collapsed at a student concert in Dunedin. Paralysed in the accident, Bailley is pursuing her studies as she adjusts to life in a wheelchair.
The day started just like any other day for Bailley, she attended her morning classes and then hung out with friends. They decided to go on a flat crawl, and stopped at the Castle Street concert.
“We’d like just arrived and Six60 must have just come on stage so everyone looked at [the stage], you know they just started, and then there was just a loud noise from above. I was just crushed by the weight of the balcony and everyone on it. I just remember how painful it was.”
The accident left many students injured, taking paramedics around an hour to get her into an ambulance.
Bailley had left her phone in her flat, so her friends got it and rung Bailley’s mum.
“I just felt real guilty, like I just felt like I’d done something wrong, you know like I shouldn't have went there, it shouldn't have happened.” said Bailley.
Two hours after the accident, Bailley was in hospital.
“He took me over and showed me her x-rays and at the stage they told me that her spinal cord was severed and that it was huge and that the chance of her every walking again was not a possibility really.” Bailley’s mum said.
The next day, Bailley went into surgery. She thought it would fix everything and she’d be able to walk out of the hospital.
“I was naive, I thought doctors can fix anything… So I had the surgery and then I came out of it and they said you’re going to be in hospital for a while, but they said the surgery went well, so I thought it was fine. I said for a week? And they said no three months. I couldn’t understand why I’d need to be in hospital for three months. You know, I was fine.”
That day Bailley checked facebook and saw many articles about the accident. She clicked on one that said she would never be able to walk again. She couldn’t believe it and asked her mum if it was true. Her mum told her to breathe, and just worry about today.
“That's the first time I actually realised, it wasn't the ideal way to find out” said Bailley.
“I know it’s new and there was a concert and there was a big balcony collapse but that was my baby girl and okay it’s their news story but this is our life that they’re tampering with and it's my child's feelings that they’re tampering with.” Bailey’s mum said.
Bailley now realises how much she took everything for granted. She didn't have to worry about whether she’d be able to access buildings or if bathrooms were accessible.
“A spinal cord injury, it affects every part of your life. You just don't realise how much your legs help you with everything.” said Bailley.
She had to learn to do almost everything again.
Bailley now spends her school year in Dunedin and comes home to Winton over the breaks. The accident made Bailley look at life differently, and she realised she wanted to study something different, something she really wanted to do.
“I didn't just wanna sit around in an office, I wanted to get out and do things and help. I've always wanted to be in the health industry.” said Bailley.
She's now studying to be an Occupational Therapist. Bailley said because she has the insight from a patient's perspective can be very helpful.
Finding a flat in Dunedin proved difficult. She had to look everywhere to find something accessible.
“I could get into the course but I couldn't find accommodation.”
She found a flat and lives with her friends. Bailley talked about how she used to be nervous meeting new people, as they didnt know what she was like before the accident and that she's still the same person, she just can't stand up.
“People think aw no like poor you but im lucky, it could've been worse, I could've had a brain injury. I could've had a higher break and had less muscle that worked. I'm pretty lucky compared to a lot of people.”
When Bailley speaks of her future, she says that if she wants to do something, she’ll do it, you never know what's going to happen tomorrow.
Bailley also wants to be treated like a normal human. People assume that because she's in a wheelchair that she's different.
“I'm just like you except I'm sitting, I’m exactly the same so treat me how you would anyone else.”