Real Life

‘We’re the luckiest unlucky family’

Each of this Whangarei couple’s children has had a terrifying brush with death

Lexi and Dayne ocCallum are typical teenage siblings who like nothing better than winding each other up with teasing and taunts. But when the Whangarei youngsters talk about how they both cheated death in separate freak accidents, their deep respect for each other shines through.

The battle scars of their terrifying ordeals are literally etched on their faces. Dayne (17) was engulfed in a fireball, suffering life-threatening burns to his face and hands, after a friend accidentally threw a bucket of burning petrol on him while lighting a bonfire at a party three years ago.

After countless operations, two weeks in a drug induced coma, and a life-and-death struggle, Dayne made a full recovery, although he will always bear the scars.

His mum Jacque (42) thought Dayne’s ordeal meant the family had already been through more than its fair share of drama and heartache. So she was shocked when Dayne’s younger sister Lexi (13) also became the victim of a freak accident that could easily have ended in her death.

The bubbly schoolgirl was hit by a train while crossing rail tracks in Whangarei city centre. She was walking home with schoolfriends at the time and her young pals were horrified to see the impact of the train fling an unconscious Lexi several metres. But just like her brother, Lexi amazingly survived her ordeal.

Jacque says that when she arrived at the crossing where Lexi was hit, she had terrifying flashbacks. “oy boss was driving me to the accident site and I was in such a state that I jumped out of the car even before it stopped,”” says Jacque. “It was like reliving what happened to Dayne all over again, only this time it was my daughter.”

Lexi was already in the ambulance when Jacque arrived to be told that her daughter was not only unconscious but had terrible cuts on her face. When Jacque arrived at the scene of Dayne’s accident three years ago, his mates had him in a paddling pool, pouring cold water over him. His badly burned face made him unrecognisable, even to his own mum, but he remained conscious throughout the whole incident.

Having helped Dayne adjust to his facial scars, mum-of-four Jacque couldn’t believe that she was once again having to support one of her children though a devastating trauma this time, her pretty daughter who had recently been doing some part-time modelling.

“I was expecting the worst I had to see her face,” says Jacque. “It was pretty bad but I knew she would be okay in the end.”

Like her brother, Lexi astounded her doctors with her speedy recovery. She suffered from a broken finger and collarbone, and needed surgery to fix a broken cheekbone and a shattered eye-socket. But after two weeks she was well enough to leave hospital and a month on, has just returned to school.

Dayne has been a major support for Lexi throughout her ordeal. He says what he experienced, with both the fireball and its painful aftermath, and have ended up making him a stronger person.

“I’ve had to grow up fast to deal with the reactions people have when they see my face,” he says. “But I don’t care what people think. I know who I am, and I’m confident within myself.”

Jacque knows she and her husband Stuart could easily have been mourning the loss of both their younger children. Even the couple’s two eldest sons, Halen (24) and Daniel (22), have had terrifying brushes with death.

“one of our boys was hit by a truck and spent three months in hospital fighting for his life. And just last year, the other one had a burst appendix and was hours from death,” says Stuart.

Jacque, who is Maori, says fantails appeared at the house before each of the accidents. In Maori tradition, the little birds are seen as omens of bad luck, and Jacque believes this. “The next time we see one, there’s no way I will be letting any of the family go anywhere until I’m sure it’s safe,” she says.

“You hear the term ‘a parent’s worst nightmare’ well, we’ve had to go through it too many times.” And Stuart has the perfect phrase to sum up what the ocCallums have been through together. “We must be the luckiest unlucky family in New Zealand!” he says. Aroha Awarau

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