Chris & Mel Cairns 'WE'RE IN THIS BATTLE TOGETHER'
Woman’s Day Magazine NZ|January 17, 2022
The cricket legend and his beloved wife open up about his new life in a wheelchair and how it’s made their love stronger than ever
As Chris Cairns’ wife Mel watched doctors prepare the Kiwi cricket legend for an emergency helicopter dash from their hometown of Canberra to a heart unit in Sydney last August, she didn’t know if she’d ever see her husband again.

“They didn’t know if he’d survive the flight,” she recalls, her voice cracking with emotion. “They’d done all they could for him, but they didn’t think his heart would make it. This was his last chance. It was the hardest moment.

“When the helicopter took off, everything hit me. I shut myself in a room and burst into tears, holding my phone and my breath until I got the call that they’d landed in Sydney. He was still alive.”

Speaking about the traumatic 10 days when surgeons desperately battled to save Chris, 51, after he suffered a deadly aortic dissection – a tear in his largest heart vessel – Mel, 41, says she and their children, Isabel, 10, Noah, eight, and Angus, four, endured a “rollercoaster ride” as Chris underwent four open-heart operations, which led to massive organ failure, internal bleeding and ultimately a spinal stroke, leaving him paralysed from the waist down.

“I never left his side at the hospital in Canberra and wanted to go with him to Sydney, where I knew it was a possibility he could need a heart transplant,” she tells Woman’s Day.

“It was an impossible decision – if I went and Chris didn’t survive, I would be away from the children and have to quarantine for two weeks. They begged me not to go. Ultimately, the decision was taken out of my hands as, due to the COVID outbreak in Sydney, there was a strict no-visitors rule.”

Fast-forward four months and the pair are snuggled up on a bed at Mel’s parents’ home in Canberra, where they’re staying while Chris takes a break from rehab, revealing to us how his health crisis has only made their love stronger than ever and that while there’s a “tough, unknown road ahead”, they’re positive about the future.

“Death or brain damage were high on the agenda, so I’m so grateful to be here with Mel and the kids,” says the former Black Caps captain. “I’m in a wheelchair, which is life-changing, but I’m alive. It could have been so much worse.”

As he faces gruelling rehabilitation to relearn how to stand and walk, Chris is delighted to report he can already feel some “flickering” in both his ankles and has “a good amount” of movement in his right leg. But there is a long way to go.

“I don’t know what’s coming, but I’m ready. No doctor has said I will never walk again. No doctor said I will. I get up and work at it six hours a day, doing everything to spark the nerves back up. Rehab can be boring as bats**t, but I know from sport I have that tenacity to keep trying. I’m not saying there aren’t dark moments, or times when I feel sad or frustrated, but Mel only lets me feel sorry for myself for a bit.”

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