Volunteer-built house to go under the hammer after athlete's tragic accident
Nick Dempsey inside the house built by volunteers to raise money for his rehabilitation. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Chloe Strahan)
More than 100 volunteers have finished building a house that will be auctioned to raise funds for a man who suffered a severe spinal cord injury on his 21st birthday.
Albury man Nick Dempsey became a quadriplegic after diving into his parents’ swimming pool in January 2017.
He hit the bottom of the pool, dislocating his neck and severely injuring his spinal cord.
Prior to the accident, Mr Dempsey had put a deposit on a block of land in Thurgoona in NSW.
His father Peter came up with the idea to build and sell a house to raise funds for advanced therapy.
“We estimate there were probably just over 7,000 hours of volunteer work and about $230,000 of donated materials,” Peter Dempsey said.
“We’ve had volunteers from the start, through the design concept right through to Albury City Council waiving the fees, through to this morning when there were some painters here doing some work for nothing.
“It’s been tough, it’s been hard, but when you look at what Nick’s going through it hasn’t been that hard really,” he said.
Community volunteered for 12 months
About 130 people donated their time, money and materials for the Nick’s Journey House project.
Mr Dempsey, a prominent water polo player and local footballer, said many of the volunteers were strangers.
“It’s amazing enough that people I do know how much effort they put in, let alone people that I’ve never met before willing to put in all of their time and effort,” he said.
“I tried to make the effort to come out and meet as many people as I could, but there’s still some that have done it without wanting any praise, so it makes it even more amazing.”
Builders volunteered their skills and time over 12 months to build Nick’s Journey House in Thurgoona, NSW. (Supplied: Dempsey Family)
Many volunteers followed Mr Dempsey’s rehabilitation progress and the construction of the house on Nick’s Journey Facebook page.
Peter and Trudy Dempsey said the project had been hectic. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Chloe Strahan)
“Nick’s pretty well known around town with his water polo over the last few years. With what happened to him a lot of people got affected by it and felt for him and wanted to help,” Peter Dempsey said.
“That’s the amazing thing about the Albury Wodonga community.”
Mr Dempsey’s mother Trudy said the last 12 months of building had been hectic but well worth it.
“It’s amazing. Volunteers just jumped on board from the word go and are still asking if they can do anything,” Ms Dempsey said.
“A big thank you to everybody, we can’t say it enough.”
The four-bedroom house in Thurgoona has an open plan kitchen and living area, and a butler’s pantry. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Chloe Strahan)
Remaining positive during rehabilitation
Mr Dempsey was flown to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne for immediate surgery after his accident and later spent six months at the Austin Hospital’s Royal Talbot Rehabilitation Centre.
“I sort of just accepted it from the start. I was obviously upset and trying to get used to it, but generally speaking I just copped it on the chin and moved forward, [focused] on trying to get better,” he said.
His parents have been amazed at their son’s positive attitude after the accident.
“I’ve never heard Nick complain yet, so if he’s not going to complain then we’re not going to,” Peter Dempsey said.
“Nick just makes it so much easier, it has been his mindset from day one,” Ms Dempsey said.
Missing his independence
Nick Dempsey, pictured with his mother Trudy, said the support from his family, girlfriend, friends and the community had been amazing. (Supplied: Dempsey Family)
Mr Dempsey started dating Freya Saunders four months ago, more than a year since he became a quadriplegic.
“When I met him I didn’t second guess it,” Ms Saunders said.
“I met Nick for who he was both inside and out and I wouldn’t change him for the world.
“I thought he was going to be struggling a lot more than he has, and he hasn’t shown that he’s struggling once,” she said.
The couple admitted there were difficulties to dating with a severe spinal injury.
Most of all, Mr Dempsey missed the independence of his old life.
“Being able to give people a hug or hang out with mates and do normal things. I’m not fussed if I never play a game of footy again — that’s not really a priority — it’s just the independence and normality of a life,” he said.
Expensive recovery process
Money from the auction will go towards ongoing rehabilitation, as well as travel costs and equipment.
Mr Dempsey must regularly travel to Melbourne and Queensland to attend advanced therapy facilities that are not available in regional NSW.
“If there is travel overseas with new therapies if they come up, or cures, it opens up the doors for those opportunities,” he said.
The extra therapy had given him more mobility in his upper body and allowed him to be more independent.
“When I first left rehab I had almost no movement whatsoever, but through a lot of therapy I’ve gotten a lot stronger in my upper body,” he said.
“I’ve already got a lot further than what doctors were saying I was going to.
“I think there will be big progress in the future and I won’t be stuck in a wheelchair forever.”
Although Mr Dempsey still needed assistance with most tasks, therapy allowed him to push a manual wheelchair and occasionally feed himself.
“I remember at the start I’d ask for a hug and he would put his arm around me, and it would just lightly touch me,” Ms Saunders said.
“Now he’s gained more strength and he’s able to [hug me] a bit tighter. It’s nice.”
Ms Saunders now lives with the Dempsey family, but the couple were looking to move closer to his rehabilitation.
“Being in Albury you don’t get a lot of the high-level therapy that I need right now, so we are exploring options of moving to Queensland because of the rehab centre there,” Mr Dempsey said.
Nick’s Journey House to be auctioned
More than 100 volunteers donated their time and skill for the project. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Chloe Strahan)
The house will be auctioned on Saturday, November 17.
Mr Dempsey and his family said it was amazing to see the beautiful finished product after 12 long months.
“I can say thank you a million times and it still wouldn’t do it justice. A massive thank you to everyone who was involved in the whole project.”