Real Life

A seesaw almost killed me

A playground accident nearly took Claire Baigent’s life – but it’s changed her outlook.

By Aroha Awarau

Young love has plenty of ups and downs, and that rings true for Claire Baigent and Jodi Pitout, who thought it would be romantic to revisit their childhoods and play on the seesaw together.

But the innocent gesture turned into a terrible tragedy, when Jodi (20) jumped off the playground equipment, causing his girlfriend to fall onto the bars and sustain life-threatening injuries.

After several weeks in hospital and gruelling surgery, the Auckland couple are relieved that Claire survived the ordeal.

“When it happened, I didn’t think it was a big deal,” says Claire (20) about the incident that occurred eight weeks ago.

“I went home afterwards and was giggling at the end of it.”

But the next day she started experiencing severe stomach pain and knew it was serious.

“I was rushed into hospital. They discovered pancreatic fluid was leaking and I had internal bleeding in my abdomen. I had pushed my pancreas so far back that it split itself on my spine.”

The shocking diagnosis led to a five-hour operation where surgeons removed 80% of Claire’s pancreas, as well as her entire spleen.

“Doctors had told me I was lucky to be alive. Telling me a seesaw almost took my life was the scariest thing in the world.”

The pair, who have been together for six months, met at the gym where Jodi works as a personal trainer.

Feeling guilty that he was partially responsible for Claire’s injuries, Jodi stayed by his girlfriend’s side and helped nurse her back to health.

“I wanted to ensure that she was looked after,” he says.

“It was a freak accident and it took us by surprise.”

But the ordeal didn’t end there. Claire needed further attention when the wound became infected.

“The only way to fix this was by opening me back up to remove the infection and putting a suction dressing in,” Claire explains.

“I was connected to a little machine for three weeks.”

She is now on the mend, but Claire’s life has changed forever. She will need to take antibiotics for the next two years, and without a pancreas, she is at high risk of contracting diabetes, meaning she has to monitor her sugar levels for the rest of her life.

Also, without a spleen she has no immune system. But the biggest concern for Claire is having babies in the future.

“I’m nervous about getting pregnant because of the scar,” she says of the wound which runs down the centre of her torso, from her rib cage to her belly button. “But that’s something to think about when I’m ready to start a family.”

For Claire and Jodi, the experience has brought them closer together and they say they’ve learned to enjoy life.

Since the accident, the couple – who are both studying sports and recreation at university – are taking time off next year to travel.

“After this experience we have discovered that life is too short. It’s given us the push we needed to see the world together,” says Jodi.

Claire is eager to share her story, as it’s a lesson for others to be careful.

“I want to get a message out that even something like playing on a seesaw can change your life forever,” she warns.

“You’ve got to have some fun, but just be careful. Your body is very fragile.”

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