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Thursday, June 24, 2021

GALLERY: Surfers to hit waves for beloved Neil

The Hunter surfing community will band together next month to assist one of their own.

Neil Goldsmith endured a life-changing motor scooter accident overseas, on 17 July, which left him a quadriplegic.

The avid surfer suffered spinal injuries, paralysis and the need for facial reconstruction surgery.

Worse still, the experience also came at a massive financial cost to him and his family.

Now, to help alleviate that burden, as well as raise awareness of Mr Goldsmith’s plight, a number of locals will host the 2020 Robyn Ayton Memorial Surf Contest at Jewells Beach on Saturday 5 December – with the proceeds aiding the popular sportsman.

An after-party and awards ceremony, including a surfboard auction, is scheduled to take place at the Orana Hotel, Blacksmiths, too.

“For the past four years, my partner Sam Ayton and friend Jarrad Duffey have hosted the annual contest after Sam’s mom passed away from brain cancer in June 2016,” event co-organiser Marina Weitz said.

“Each time, we’ve donated the money raised to either an individual in need or an organisation, including Sam’s father, the Mark Hughes Foundation and Surfing the Spectrum.

“In 2020, we’re determined to assist Neil, who had a terrible accident in Indonesia.

“His family needed to MediVac him back to Australia and into a special spinal ward unit, all paid for out-of-pocket.

“Tragically, he is paralysed from the chest down and currently going through the recovery process, emotionally and physically.

“So, we’d like to lessen some of the stress if we can.

“In 2019, the Robyn Ayton Memorial Surf Contest amassed about $10,000 for Surfing the Spectrum.

“This year we are hoping to match that or raise more – and continue to see the amazing support of our community.

“The family needs around $125,000 in total to cover all of the medical bills and expenses.

“So, the more we raise the better.”

Ms Weitz admitted it was an easy decision to hit the waves for Mr Goldsmith.

“We chose Neil because he’s a local surfer in our community, who’s been dealt a terrible hand in especially difficult times,” she said.

“We know how easily this could happen to any of us and really feel for him and his family.

“Also, with his accident having happened only recently, they’re far from their fundraising goals and we thought he could use, and deserves, all the love and support that can be given to him.”

Mr Goldsmith’s sister Lou Webber said her sibling was still coming to terms with the enormity of his injuries and how very different life and his future will be as a quadriplegic.

“It’s such a heartbreaking and extremely challenging time,” she explained.

“This will be a tough journey for him, but he’ll make it with all of our love and support.

“It’ll take a village, but we’ll get there. Anyone who knows Neil, knows of his love for surfing.

“He surfed every day. Ironically, after surfing in G-Land, he had the accident.

“When Neil didn’t return, a mate went looking for him. He was found by a farmer four hours later lying in a ditch with the motorbike on top of him.

“He’d been in and out of consciousness, yelling for help, knowing that he could not feel his lower body.

“He was then taken to a local hospital where X-rays and CT scans showed he required a spinal cord specialist.”

Ms Webber described the ordeal to bring her brother home.

“Since Neil needed specialised medical treatment, he was transported to the international hospital in Bali (BIMC) – a gruelling six-hour ambulance ride,” she said.

“He had multiple surgeries, which included facial reconstruction, and stabiliser plates inserted to support his fractured neck.

“He remained in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Bali for four weeks.

“We paid the medical bills at BIMC weekly while trying to fundraise (through our GoFundMe page Neil-Needs-You) and formulate a plan to MediVac him back to Australia.

“The hospital bill in Bali came to a staggering AU$83,000.”

But, the family worked non-stop to ensure his safe return.

“This was an excruciating task during a global pandemic,” Ms Webber said.

“We could not fly to Bali to be by his side as international travel was denied.

“We had language barriers at the hospital, borders closed in Australia and Bali, COVID-19 restrictions denying visitors, and the constant heartbreak of knowing how alone he was in ICU after having been through such a traumatic accident.

“We spoke to our local members of parliament, to the Australian Consulate in Bali, to Department of Foreign Affairs, and as many government bodies we could.

“However, we were told we were on our own, and responsible for organising and funding his medical evacuation.

“Then, we were able to successfully MediVac Neil to Australia on 12 August at an additional cost of AU$106,000.

“He quarantined for two weeks in the trauma ward at Royal North Shore Hospital (RNS) before being moved to the spinal unit there.

“Neil remains in the spinal ward at RNS and, due to a pressure wound that he recently had surgery on, will spend another six months in that facility.”

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