TIM Hays can still remember the feeling of complete uncertainty that washed over him when he awoke in the intensive care unit at Royal North Shore Hospital last year.
Mr Hays, 28, of Coal Point, had been working in Sydney as a surveyor for engineering consultants Sinclair Knight Mertz.
He had been to a party at Warners Bay in July 2013 and was hit by a car while he was walking home.
The impact caused a severe spinal cord injury and Mr Hays was left with a dislocated fracture to his cervical spine at the C5-C6 level.
"My life changed dramatically from that point," Mr Hays said. "You have a completely uncertain future, I woke up in [the intensive care unit] and didn't know what was going to happen or how my life was going to figure."
He spent six weeks in intensive care before he was moved to the acute spinal ward.
It was there that he first began to regain some control - not just of his body but of his life - when he made contact with the Lifetime Care and Support Authority and its In-Voc Program, a return-to-work initiative for people with spinal injuries.
"The In-Voc program helped to start discussions with my employer to identify if a suitable role might exist," Mr Hays said.
As a surveyor, Mr Hays had been used to working outdoors but, through the In-Voc consultant, an office-based role for him was identified with the engineering company.
The consultant helped with a rehabilitation plan, Mr Hays said, including job-specific training and a gradual return to work.
The state government has announced it will fund the In-Voc program for a further five years, following an almost tripling of return-to-work rates during the pilot program.
Mr Hays is considered one of the success stories and has now started re-training as a spatial analyst at the company, which has been acquired by Jacobs.
His goals now include returning to full-time work and increasing his independence.
"I've been empowered through my return to work trial," he said.
"It's helped having an aim to go back to, not just rehabilitating for the sake of it.
"It has given me something to strive towards, not just through an employment side of things, but a social and intellectual side as well."
Mr Hays also praised Jacobs for its "flexibility and willingness to engage with the program" along with the staff in the intensive care and spinal wards at Royal North Shore Hospital and the Spinal Cord Injuries Australia peer support team.