This article was published in The Shepparton News‘ weekend section Weekend Life in September 2012.
Some may call it fate. Others fortuitous. Some may simply say, ‘‘It’s a small world’’.
But two car crashes at two intersections hundreds of kilometres apart brought two families together over one big issue.
In January, 19-year-old Jordan Milburn’s brain and body were left bruised and shattered after a crash at the intersection of Labuan and Nathalia-Katamatite Roads — a Victorian crossroads well-known for all the wrong reasons.
Jordan’s story is a remarkable one because of what his parents describe as his miraculous recovery from near-death.
But perhaps equally remarkable is the kindness of a stranger who turned a chance encounter at a Melbourne crash scene into a fruitful connection.
Jordan and his mate Ayander remember arriving in the northern Victorian town of Shepparton on January 12 and buying a computer for Ayander for his first year at university.
Neither of them remembers beginning the drive home to their southern New South Wales town of Finley and neither remembers the crash on Labuan Road.
Jordan was found unconscious on top of Ayander and airlifted to The Alfred hospital in Melbourne, while Ayander was taken to GV Health Shepparton before joining his mate later for treatment for a neck fracture.
Jordan and Ayander had told their parents they would be home for dinner.
Knowing them to be sensible young men, Jordan’s mother Christine became worried when they didn’t turn up.
‘‘It’s mother’s intuition,’’ she said.
After 11 calls to Jordan’s mobile phone, a police officer answered it.
‘‘I was trying to figure out why someone else had my son’s phone,’’ she said.
Christine and David were told Jordan had head injuries and had been flown to hospital, but that was all they could find out during the four-hour drive to Melbourne.
It was another hour or so before they were allowed into the intensive care unit to see their boy.
He was intubated with a drain and a gauge in his brain to monitor pressure.
He had seven areas of swelling on his brain, a bruised heart, a fractured sternum, a lacerated liver, multiple fractures in his pelvis and a fractured wrist — among other injuries.
Jordan was in a coma for 10 days.
For the next 21 days he had post traumatic amnesia — a stage following a brain injury that can involve confusion and disorientation.
The strangest thing for Jordan after he ‘‘came to’’ was saying the year — 2012.
For him, the new year had only just happened. He remembers nothing of the crash or the days that followed. But one day, he woke up, looked down and found he had a cast on his arm and scars on his hands.
Okay, Jordan thought, I’m clearly in a hospital and I’ve broken my arm. But otherwise I seem okay. No problem.
He got out of bed to walk to the bathroom. His legs hurt. But that was okay. His reflection in the mirror showed a Jordan with no hair and a big scar on his head.
Head injuries. That explains why I can’t remember what happened, he thought. Okay.
A nurse spotted Jordan out of bed and explained what happened — and said he shouldn’t be walking because he had a broken pelvis and hips.
That explains the sore legs, Jordan thought.
The climb towards recovery had begun. It was difficult for the naturally active 19-year-old to stay in bed while his bones mended.
The twice-daily physiotherapy sessions during the next couple of months weren’t a chore for Jordan because he enjoyed the activity.
There were speech therapy and psychological assessments on top of the physio — ‘‘basically they were just testing everything’’, Jordan said.
Through it all Christine was there, while David made as many trips to Melbourne as their dairy farm would allow.
One night in the midst of Jordan’s recovery, David left his motel near The Alfred to get some food and came across a car crash and a girl shaking with fear. Emergency services had been called, so David offered help by sitting with the girl and talking with her to calm her down.
When David asked the girl, Danielle, where she was from, she told him he wouldn’t have heard of it — a small town called Cobram.
He told her he was a dairy farmer from nearby Finley and his son was in hospital.
David left when Danielle’s friends turned up, but a few weeks later he got a call from her — with the help of a relative at the Finley vet clinic she tracked him down to say thank you.
Danielle’s dad also wanted to speak to the man who helped his daughter. Her dad is State Member for Murray Valley Tim McCurdy.
A long-running campaign to have the Labuan and Nathalia-Katamatite Roads intersection upgraded was, finally, nearing its end. And when Mr McCurdy found out funding had been secured to fix the crossroads that almost took David and Christine’s son’s life, they were first on his list of people to tell.
‘‘We were pretty ecstatic (about the funding),’’ David said.
‘‘Some people are angry something wasn’t done before, but we’re not,’’ Christine said. ‘‘We’re glad something’s being done now — you don’t know until something happens.’’
Jordan is able to recall his experience with an amazing positivity after such a traumatic event.
Maybe it’s because he doesn’t remember the worst parts. Maybe it’s his family, its unwavering faith in God and its community that helped. Or it could just be his nature.
Christine and David said the support they received from the Finley community and their church family has just been incredible.
Christine said the Finley community was tightknit and everyone knew Jordan, who was dux at Finley High School.
She said young people in the town realised if the dux, who didn’t drink or do drugs, could be in a crash, it could happen to anyone.
‘‘It really shook them up,’’ Christine said.
David was back and forward between the dairy farm and Melbourne. He tried to take the other children with him as often as he could.
But the strain was felt by all.
While it’s difficult for Christine and David to resist the urge to protect their children, they don’t want to stop them from living their lives
‘‘You can’t wrap them in cotton wool, you just hope all the lessons you taught them pay off,’’ Christine said.
‘‘It has been a lot less dramatic to me than I thought it would be,’’ Jordan said.
‘‘I remember one afternoon mum and I had gone to the movies and I was wondering that night if I would be affected by being in a car and I thought, ‘no, I’ve just been in a car all day and not been bothered’.’’
Life is more or less back to normal for Jordan — incredibly, the only reminder of the crash is a bit of pain in his hip sometimes. The doctors said the crash should have killed Jordan and it was expected he would be left with some level of physical or mental disability.
His first trip back to the rock climbing walls he loves was a challenge because he hadn’t climbed for months.
He’s back at university, though he’s taking a slightly different track to the one he started on.
But now there’s nothing stopping Jordan reaching his peak.