At the age of 24, Neil Sachse was an Aussie Rules rising star. The burly South Australian had battled his way through the ranks to become a sought after sporting commodity. However, playing for Footscray in 1975 Neil suffered a catastrophic spinal injury from a front-on collision. Described as the worst sporting injury in the history AFL/VFL, Neil was left a quadriplegic from the accident.
Neil has a truly inspiring story. Refusing to be defined by his accident, Neil became a passionate advocate for disability care and injury prevention in sport. Neil established the Neil Sachse Foundation in 1995, with a powerful vision: “to find a cure for spinal cord injury”.
In addition to being a mentor to injured athletes, Neil has raised millions of dollars over the years for medical research through the Neil Sachse Foundation (now the Neil Sachse Centre).
The spinal cord is an important part of the body. Spinal cord injury is damage that causes changes in ability for the body to function. The brain and the spinal cord make up the Central Nervous System and the consequences of sustaining an injury to the spinal cord can be severe. Damage can translate into loss of muscle function, sensation or autonomic function throughout the body.
Given the precision anatomical function of the spinal cord and its fragile structure, the severity of damage along the spinal cord causes symptoms to vary widely. Quadriplegia (which is tetraplegia) results after injury occurrence and damage in the cervical segments. Paraplegia results after an injury damage in the thoracic, lumbar or sacral segments.
Generally, the higher the damage on the spinal cord, the more widespread the symptoms. From pain and numbness to paralysis and incontinence, the prognosis ranges widely. Rehabilitation takes time, perseverance and iron-willed determination. More than 15,000 people in Australia live with spinal cord injury and this figure is added to by one person each day. The average cost to Australia is $2 billion annually.
Häggström, Mikael (2014). “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014”. WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 2002-4436. Public Domain. or By Mikael Häggström, used with permission. (File:Gray797.png) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Neil Sachse (pronounced “Sax-ee”) was born 3 January 1951 and grew up in Clearview, South Australia. As your typical ‘Gepps Cross family’, the backyard was the scene of endless contests between three physical competitive bothers. The ‘tin shed’ that was Gepps Cross Footy Club was founded in 1952 and began to grow in line with industrialisation in the region. The local council found a permanent paddock for the team, nicknamed ‘prickle patch’ due to the stubborn Scottish thistles that grew in the area. Neil’s first memory of footy was spending hours with his mum and dad poisoning the weeds and thistles.
Since his sporting injury, Neil hasn’t stopped. As a driving force behind medical research fundraising, Neil was integral to a contribution of $1.5 million to a ground-breaking project at Flinders University. This was to be the beginning of the Neil Sachse Foundation Spinal Cord Injury Research Centre.
Through medical developments, the centre has made a significant difference to the lives of Australians suffering from spinal cord injury. The Foundation now focuses on funding an intervention drug that helps reduce the swelling that follows a spinal cord injury at Adelaide University School of Medical Sciences.
In 2009, Neil was awarded the “Premier’s Award for Outstanding Community Achievement in South Australia” in recognition of his tireless work and dedication at an Awards Ceremony run by the Australia Day Council of SA at Government House.
A partnership which will help find a cure for spinal cord injury was launched in Adelaide on 15 March 2017. Combining with the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) on North Terrace, the quest to find a cure for spinal injury has inched ever closer to becoming a reality.
Sixty years ago, Australia was one of the first countries to move away from the idea that spinal cord injuries could not be treated. This merging of Neil’s organisation with SAHMRI is a vital step on that 60 year journey.
SAHMRI is South Australia’s first independent flagship health and medical research institute. Home to more than 600 medical researchers, the collective organisations work together to tackle the biggest health challenges in modern society today.
SAHMRI’s identity is inspired by a microscope image of a stylised cell. A cell is an appropriate symbol because of our links to biology and because cells require linkages to other cells to provide structural support and carry nutrients and communications to neighbouring cells.
While SAHMRI’s research projects and organisations operate independently, they all have important links to one other. They all share common objectives, facilities and crucial knowledge. Connected to other health and medical research institutes across South Australia, interstate and overseas; teams share findings and discoveries by working collaboratively. This research support network has a greater chance of making Neil’s dream a reality – a cure for spinal injury.
The Neil Sachse Centre is dependent upon the generosity of the supporters and general public to continue its vital work. The Centre currently do not receive any Government funding and rely on the generosity of the donors for funding.
Each gift will be recognised appropriately and is much appreciated. There are a number of ways to give…