THE past six months have been long and full of uncertainty for Chris Apps and his family. But being back together under the one roof this Christmas will wrap up a hell of a year.
On June 1, 2019, Mr Apps had left his family home in Lake Macquarie to go mountain-biking with his mates in Taree when "life changed in a split second".
The experienced cyclist and mountain biker came off his bike, and was "knocked out" on impact.
When he regained consciousness, he could feel his body.
He just couldn't move it.
"They call it a gap jump," his wife, Kimberley Apps, said. "It was across a small creek. He just didn't land it, he just didn't have enough speed. He also ripped off quite a large chunk of his nose, because he landed on his face, and he had snapped his jaw in half. For all of his mates, there was a period there where they didn't even know if he was alive.
"When he woke up, he was trying to move, and they were saying, 'Chris, stay still'. They knew it didn't look good. They did everything perfectly. We couldn't fault them."
The 37-year-old engineering geologist was flown to Royal North Shore in Sydney for emergency surgery. He had suffered damage to his spinal cord in the accident.
"One of his mates called to tell me... I was in a state of panic. I was with my daughter, and she was hysterical because she thought he might have died. It was honestly horrible," Mrs Apps said.
After his surgery, they waited to see whether he would regain any function.
They waited for any signs that might offer a glimpse at what their new future might look like. Waited for answers.
"He has incomplete quadriplegia," Mrs Apps said. "That meant he might regain some function - because he hadn't severed his spinal cord. He was in intensive care for two weeks and not able to move anything. I think it took about five or six weeks for Chris to be able to move his left toe."
But bit by bit, Mr Apps enjoyed some "small wins". First in the specialised spinal unit at Royal North Shore, then at Royal Rehab in Ryde - his home for the best part of six months.
He attended every rehabilitation session he could - pushing through the pain and discomfort with hope, but no guarantees.
Mrs Apps said while he required a wheelchair for the majority of his mobility, he had begun walking short distances with "Canadian crutches" - a feat many thought would not be possible.
"He is doing really well, but there are still a lot of big bumps in the road yet," Mrs Apps said. "We are still having a lot of challenges."
Since the accident, Mrs Apps tried to keep life at home as close to "normal" as possible for their children, Ruby and Peppa.
"I was travelling back and forth to Sydney," Mrs Apps said. "I wanted the kids to stay at school so they had that sense of normality, so I was going back every couple of days. Financially, that was a big hit."
Mrs Apps had to return to work after four weeks.
"I have been in Sydney every weekend, except for three, in six months - just so the kids got to see Chris and we could all stay connected," she said.
They had family and friends helping to get the girls to school and to lessons. Neighbours were dropping off meals. Family friends helped to build a ramp for their house, and other helpers mowed their lawn.
"Friends were doing little fundraising events to try to help us. A girlfriend raffled off a Thermomix," Mrs Apps said.
"One of my neighbours started packing me lunchboxes for the days I was driving to Sydney, because she knew I was always eating in transit. The support has been amazing."
For six months, Mr Apps has missed swimming lessons, soccer games, debut parkruns, and birthdays.
He has missed kissing his daughters and wife goodnight. Cuddles on the couch.
But his goal was to get home in time for Christmas.
"Getting back home has been a bit surreal," he said. "Nothing is set in its path. It's pretty easy to have a major change in your life. It can happen in a split second.
"You always think it's never going to happen to you, until it does, and then you find out it happens to a lot more people than you ever realised.
"Then there is the incredible amount of support from friends and family and community that you don't realise is there until you need it, and that's overwhelming."
As much as the family does not want to ask for help, they do need support.
A Go Fund Me called Stack for a Stack had raised more than $20,000 to help fund modifications to their house, the purchase of a more suitable car, and the costs of living on a significantly reduced income. The family hopes that by the time they hold a fundraiser at Club Charlestown on May 23, they will have a better idea of what they will need moving forward, and how much it will all cost.
"We are big campers," Mrs Apps said. "We had just bought a caravan for our 10 year anniversary in March. But I am trying to sell it now. We can't use it. Everything is all so different now.
"We have had to trade in our car to get one we can get him in and out of, and fit his chair in... I told the kids we were getting a new car, and they weren't excited at all.
"This has taught us all that material stuff just doesn't matter."
To support the family, or donate items to their fundraiser, visit comingtogetherforchris.com.au.
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