DESPITE two near-death experiences since moving from Queensland in 2016, Cameron Holzheimer is not giving up on chasing his football dream in Newcastle.
The 20-year-old Lake Macquarie Roosters defender started his rehabilitation at the Hunter Brain Injury Service at Bar Beach on Monday, just over two weeks since his skull was fractured in a late-night one-punch assault on Union Lane in Newcastle.
He spent almost a week in the intensive care unit at John Hunter Hospital and went for a final assessment at the nearby Rankin Park Centre on Monday. He still has no memory of the incident or the following two to three days as a major bleed at the front of his brain left him in a critical condition.
The assault came just over two years since he was put into an induced coma at the Mater Hospital after a catastrophic respiratory failure from a bout of pneumonia, only a few days following his arrival in Newcastle to join the Jets Youth squad.
Like in 2016, Cameron’s parents, Shayne and Robyn, and sister, Brooke, rushed to Newcastle to be with him after the latest life-threatening moment.
“We got the 2am flight the next morning. We booked the flight then just sat their numb waiting for the time to pass,” Shayne said. “They just told us he was in a very serious condition and the blood just drains out of you when you hear that.
“The scariest moment was when we had the police coming towards us while we waited. We’d known about what had happened for about an hour and a half and I was thinking that they were coming with a message. I just went into panic overload.”
After the second terrifying ordeal, Shayne said the message from his family was “to get him home”, but Cameron was determined to stay and further his football career.
“I love living here and doing my own thing,” Cameron said. “For me, it’s just about recovery now and getting back onto the field as soon as possible, without causing more injury.
”It took a while [last time] and I think I might have come back too early. It probably took me a year to feel normal again, it was a long recovery. Hopefully this one won’t be as long.
“But I still love [football], that’s it. I still want to keep going, keep pushing.”
Cameron’s condition has gradually improved and he left hospital for the first time over the weekend, watching his Roosters play on Sunday in the Northern NSW NPL.
“Yesterday I felt more alive for a longer period of time,” he said.
Helping his recovery was the gift of a signed jersey on Monday from the Newcastle Jets and Men Of Football, which is an organisation helping those in the game in need.
“I really appreciate all the support from everyone, Men Of Football and my team as well, the coaching staff,” Cameron said. “It’s been amazing.”
Bill Pryce, vice president of the Hunter chapter of Men Of Football, thanked the Jets for signing the jersey on Friday, the day before their grand final loss to Melbourne Victory.
“We want to continue to help people but to do that we need to get as many members as possible,” My Pryce said. “No matter how young or old you are, you never know when you might need help.”
Shayne said the support from Lake Macquarie Football Club, medical staff, police and Men Of Football had been “amazing”.
“He was mobbed yesterday when he went to the game, it was nice to see,” he said.
“All the club officials came up to me and asked if they could do anything to help.”
Cameron, who is battling fatigue and headaches, was “focusing on coming back this season” to play but doctors have advised him to “focus on fitness thing year and come back strong next year”.
Shayne was relieved to see Cameron improving in recent days after “a rollercoaster ride”.
“They were really close to relieving the pressure on his brain,” he said.
“He became non-responsive at one moment and they needed to make a decision whether to operate, but he turned back really quickly and became responsive, so that was a really good thing.
“The last time it was a more constant situation. It was still very serious obviously with him being in a coma, but it was more waiting and constantly hoping for the numbers to change.
“This time it was a rollercoaster. It was incredibly hard. For three days, he was up and down. It was always changing and you were just waiting for things to go back the other way.”
Of the incident, Cameron said: “I remember having a few drinks with my team because we had the weekend off for the bye weekend.
“The next thing I remember is waking up in hospital with my family sitting there.”