Griffith girl suffers broken neck in freak accident

FREAK ACCIDENT: Tilly Smith will soon begin the long and arduous task of rehabilitation for the damage sustained to her neck. Picture: Supplied.
FREAK ACCIDENT: Tilly Smith will soon begin the long and arduous task of rehabilitation for the damage sustained to her neck. Picture: Supplied.

When Fiona Smith heard the blood-curdling screams of “she’s dead, Tilly’s dead” she feared the worst.

Her daughter Tilly, just 13 years old, dove into the family pool on Sunday like she’d practiced for weeks. However, this time Tilly had broken her neck.

“When we first heard the screams, we just thought there was a snake in the pool,” grief-stricken mother Fiona Smith said. “When I realised what happened I just jumped in the pool and tried to save her.”

Three ambulances quickly arrived and took Tilly to Griffith Base Hospital.

“It was all so confusing,” Mrs Smith said. “The doctors were all concentrating on her chest because they knew there was a problem with her higher vertebrae. Tilly said she couldn’t feel anything.”

Tilly had broken her C6 vertebrae and fractured her C5. 

The hospital decided to transfer Tilly to Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney. With mum by her side, Tilly arrived in Sydney at 3am and by 7am she was in the operating room.

“The doctors said the operation would take about five hours,” Mrs Smith said. “It lasted eight-and-a-half.”

A titanium cage now rests where her C6 was broken.

However, the hardest part was only just beginning.

“We’ve asked the question of whether she will walk again and they can’t answer that,” Mrs Smith said. “They tell us she has extensive damage to the spinal cord, so it’s hard to know what the damage is.”

Though there are promising signs, the harsh reality still rears its ugly head. Tilly can bend her arms and her wrists can move, but her fingers still don’t work. She has sensation in her legs, feet and toes, but can’t move them.

Mrs Smith says Tilly’s a fighter, but it’s a lot for a 13-year-old to take on.

“She has good and she has bad days,” she said. “She has a lot of nightmares about what happened and what could have happened.”

While her rehabilitation sessions will start on Monday, Tilly’s work has already begun.

“We have to put the bed at a 45 degree angle sometimes as part of the process,” Mrs Smith said. “She doesn’t like it and she gets a dizzy feeling, but for those 15 minutes we give her some earphones and her phone and she just calls anyone and everyone.”

When the doctors told Tilly’s parents her stay in hospital may last six months (not to mention the rehabilitation afterwards), they weren’t sure how they would pay for it. 

“You’re never prepared for your world to be turned upside-down financially,” Mrs Smith said.

“Myself and my husband have talked about it and if we need to sell the house, we’ll sell the house.”

Katie Martin-Billing was with the Smiths at the time of the accident and wanted to do all she could to help the family.

She started up a GoFundMe page for Tilly and in just two days it had amassed about $6000 in donations.

“We were blown away, couldn't believe it,” Mrs Smith said. 

“For people who know me they’d know I'm not a person to ask for help.

“People are asking if I need to swap over and come back home, but I'm not ready for that just yet.”

If you want to assist in Tilly’s fight then you can make a donation at


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