A little over three years ago Tristan Patterson died, for a moment at least, and recently the Wollongong man finally had the chance to pay it back.
As he celebrated his birthday on February 9, 2020, a wild storm swept through the region and it brought trees down everywhere.
On February 10 he was deployed to a home on Missingham Parade in Robertson to cut down a huge hardwood wattle that had fallen across powerlines.
This job was the same as a million other tree lopping jobs he'd done, until it wasn't.
When he first became a tree lopper eight years earlier it made him nervous, but he quickly grew to love it. It kept him fit, was an adrenaline rush and he got a view that nobody else did.
"You learn to trust your gear, you trust your rope, you know the correct techniques on how to sling the ropes up into the tree. The fear goes away, but you've always got to be vigilant," he said.
"I specialised in doing the sort of high-risk work with a 50-foot tower. Sometimes you're up in 100-foot in some trees."
And, those views: "You're at a point where no one else has been, well unless you're a koala," he laughs.
On that day in Robertson in February 2020, he was in a cherry picker by himself, 50-foot high in the air (15 metres) with a 1.2 metre hydraulic chainsaw and had cut around 80 per cent of the tree off the powerlines.
Somehow the branch he was cutting twisted and slammed into him "like a spear".
"It's just busted everything," he said.
That section of tree weighed 600 kilograms and it pinned him in a standing position inside the cherry picker's bucket high up in the air. He immediately became unconscious.
His workmates told him what happened next.
His boss who was on the ground ran to the cherry picker controls and maneuvered the bucket holding Tristan towards the ground.
"The branch was that wedged in there that my boss had to basically cut the branch, inches away from my body," Tristan said.
"Once they got the pressure of the branch off me, because I was still standing at that time, I basically just fell to the bottom of the bucket. Apparently just a lifeless body."
He went into cardiac arrest and that's when his workmates, Ian Isedale and Mick Warton, started CPR.
It's also when a miracle moment happened.
A Rural Fire Service ute just happened to drive past and it just happened to have a defibrillator.
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Then a doctor, who lived up the road and was coming home from her shift, happened to drive past and saw the accident and stopped. Then a nurse stopped too.
"It was uncanny," Tristan said.
Was airlifted to Liverpool Hospital's brain injury unit.
"They didn't expect I was going to live," he said.
They didn't expect I was going to live.- Tristan Patterson
While his ribs were broken in 17 places, he didn't have to have surgery.
"It's like a jigsaw puzzle in there," Tristan laughed.
Three years on, life is very different. His broken body aches and he gets short of breath, he also had to learn to walk again.
The hypoxic brain injury he suffered from the time he went without oxygen, meant he's no longer able to work the job he loves and he has memory difficulties.
But, recently he was able to give back and save another person's life.
He was walking along Wollongong Harbour on July 25 with this French bulldog Chance (named Second Chance in full), that he got during his long time in rehab when he noticed a boat sinking and a man yelling for help.
Without hesitation he jumped into the harbour and helped pull local man Barry Harrison Lancaster to safety.
"I'm just paying back," Tristan said.
As he sat with the Mercury in the bushy surrounds of Mount Keira for this interview, Tristan said he's not sure if it's luck that he survived, He simply puts it down to it not being "his time".
"I've been given the chance to stay on this earth and for another purpose," he said.
"You look at the world, your life a different way. You look at it in a different perspective and not take the stuff for granted. I'm living life to the fullest."
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