60 Minutes: NT farmer Gavin Howie loses both legs in horror accident


It was supposed to be just another day on the farm for Gavin Howie.

But in a split second his life was changed forever, with the Northern Territory turf farmer losing both his legs in a freak accident in January.

Speaking to 60 Minutes’ Charles Wooley, Mr Howie recalled how he had been mowing the grass — a common task for a turf farmer — when the horrific injury occurred.

The father of two had gotten off his lawnmower “awkwardly”, causing his legs to become caught in the tractor’s machinery.

“I don’t know whether I got out of the tractor and bumped a lever or something,” Mr Howie said.

NT turf farmer Gavin Howie.
media_cameraNT turf farmer Gavin Howie.

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“I fell because I didn’t go right through the middle of it there, it must’ve been through the outside here somewhere. So I must’ve been able to get out of the way enough to not go the full way under, otherwise there would’ve been more of my legs missing.”

Mr Howie said he can only speculate about what caused the accident, with the next events unfolding quickly all while the farmer was alone in a grassy expanse of his property.

“No, I can only guess what happened,” he said. “That’s where I got myself far enough — whether I tripped over or something and clambered out the way on the ground —

and just got far enough out of the way that only my legs were back that way, back that went under the mower.”

Suffering horrendous injuries, Mr Howie said it took almost an hour and half before the pain kicked in.

Mr Howie’s wife Lauren (left) was on holiday with their two children at the time.
media_cameraMr Howie’s wife Lauren (left) was on holiday with their two children at the time.
Aaron Brooks and Antoni Kwitkowski were amazed to find Mr Howie alive.
media_cameraAaron Brooks and Antoni Kwitkowski were amazed to find Mr Howie alive.

“I think it was more uncomfortable, so I don’t know. I can remember trying to get up because I didn’t want to lay down anymore,” he said.

Incredibly, markings were later found where Mr Howie had managed to propel himself using only his arms to get his phone and call for help.

“They say there was drag marks if I have tripped over whatever my phone has come out of my pocket, and the mower’s dragged me, they said 15 metres,” he said.

Mr Howie called best friend and neighbouring farmer, Sam Thurkle, who was the first to find him and the “pretty messy” scene.

“(One leg was) completely gone but the other one was rapidly gone as well,” Mr Thurkle said. “I didn’t know if I was going to find him dead or alive. Once I got there and saw him and started talking to him it was pretty good.”

Soon paramedics Aaron Brooks and Antoni Kwitkowski arrived with the ambulance staff amazed to find Mr Howie still alive.

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Best friend Sam Thurkle was first on the “pretty messy” scene.
media_cameraBest friend Sam Thurkle was first on the “pretty messy” scene.

His left leg was “obsolete” while his right leg was “still attached somewhat, but just an absolute mess”, Mr Brooks recalled.

“When we first got there we saw Gavin lying on his back and we thought this is a fatality straight up,” Mr Kwitkowski said.

“Got out and got closer and noticed that his chest was rising and falling so he was breathing. And then when he actually said ‘g’day’ then he was fully conscious.”

After Mr Howie’s condition had stabilised at Royal Darwin Hospital he was flown to Sydney’s Macquarie University Hospital.

There, orthopaedic surgeon Associate Professor Munjed Al-Muderis performed four surgeries in a six-month period.

Known as osseo integration, Assoc Prof Al-Muderis inserted steel rods into the bone where Mr Howie’s legs had been severed.

After multiple surgeries Mr Howie is now learning to walk again on his new legs.
media_cameraAfter multiple surgeries Mr Howie is now learning to walk again on his new legs.
Associate Professor Munjed Al-Muderis.
media_cameraAssociate Professor Munjed Al-Muderis.

Not only does Mr Howie not have to rely on temporary artificial limbs, the steel attachments — which cost the farmer a whopping $200,000 — eventually become part of his nervous system.

Mr Howie is now learning to walk with his new legs and, remarkably, is beginning to sense the ground beneath him again.

“He (can) feel the grass and he (can) feel when he walk on concrete,” Assoc Prof Al-Muderis told 60 Minutes.

“He feel when you walk on carpet. And this ability will grow with time until it maximises around a year or two.”

Mr Howie now says “life’s got to go on” and he is determined for things to go back to normal — even though his wife Lauren won’t let him go back on his mower.

“There’s no point being down about anything. It’s not going to get you nowhere, is it?” he said.

“You’ve got to make what you can in life, so that’s what we’re doing now.”

Originally published as Dad loses both legs in freak accident


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