Josh rebuilds life after devastating balcony fall

When Josh Lawrence was badly injured in a balcony fall last year, confining him to a wheelchair, his family was convinced he had all but lost his hard-earned independence.

The 29-year-old, who has Down syndrome, had moved into his own Housing Trust apartment just weeks before the accident and was enjoying the challenge of caring for himself.

But when he fell from the balcony, damaging his spinal cord, he was hospitalised and told he would not walk again, despite undergoing intensive rehabilitation.

His mother, Janice Mancell, was prepared for Josh to move in with her permanently and was half-way through renovating her home to accommodate his wheelchair when Wollongong Housing Trust staff intervened.

'He’s already organising barbecues, it’s going to be a great social thing for him as he can have his friends over.'

Workers organised for Josh to move into a self-contained townhouse in Woonona, just minutes from his family.

Josh Lawrence in his Woonona unit. Picture: ROBERT PEET

Josh Lawrence in his Woonona unit. Picture: ROBERT PEET

The Housing Trust paid for the ground-floor villa to be modified with access ramps, linoleum floors and a new toilet, enabling Josh to regain his independence.

‘‘I’m so happy for him to have that long-term, it’s a good thing,’’ Mrs Mancell said.

‘‘He really wanted to have his own place and take care of himself, it was definitely his decision.

‘‘He’s already organising barbecues with his friends, it’s going to be a great social thing for him as he can have his friends over, it will just give him his own space.’’

Community housing worker Malcolm Picken, who had worked with Josh before his injury, said the Housing Trust was committed to getting Josh back into his own home.

‘‘We’d known Josh for awhile, he was well liked around the office and everyone was devastated by the incident so we really wanted to do this for him,’’ Mr Picken said.

‘‘It’s great to see him get that independence back, that’s what you go to work for.’’

The wider Woonona community has also rallied around Josh, fund-raising to help cover medical costs and volunteering their time to renovate Mrs Mancell’s home.

‘‘People have just been fantastic and so generous,’’ she said.

‘‘I can’t thank the young tradies of Woonona enough, especially the Woonona Boardriders - they’d come in and do concreting and work when they had some spare time, it’s just been wonderful.’’

Josh is set to move into his new pad in the coming weeks once nursing care is organised.