Chris Cairns' fight to leave wheelchair and walk after heart surgery, spinal stroke

Chris Cairns says he sidestepped death, but one of New Zealand's greatest cricketers doesn't know if he will be able to stand or walk again.

The Canberra-based retired allrounder and wife Melanie opened up to The Canberra Times in a wide-ranging interview after being told his heart "looked like a grenade had gone off in his chest".

They are speaking publicly now after Cairns was cleared to start using his chest and arms for the first time in three months as he continues his recovery at the University of Canberra Hospital.

A split-second decision to send Cairns for a CT scan in August saved his life when it revealed one of the main arteries in his heart had been torn, but complications of four operations led to a spinal stroke that has put him in a wheelchair.

"We don't know what happens going forward. I don't know if I'll walk, I don't know if I'll stand," Cairns said.

"But I may stand. I may walk. The only option is to keep going. The thing is I'm not even just lucky to be [alive]. I'm very lucky."


The Cairns family relocated to Canberra in 2015 and were preparing to move into a new house in Red Hill the day after Cairns felt ill at home.

Cairns and Melanie praised staff at The Canberra Hospital for keeping him alive and said the University of Canberra Hospital rehabilitation staff were helping motivate him to regain movement in his legs.

Chris Cairns in the rehabilitation centre at the University of Canberra Hospital. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Chris Cairns in the rehabilitation centre at the University of Canberra Hospital. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

"But we don't know what will come back. The amazing thing going through this is just the perseverance to keep going in case it comes back. You've got to be prepared," Cairns said.

New Zealand's charge into the Twenty20 World Cup final was a perfect boost to Cairns on the same day he transferred himself from his wheelchair and into a car for the first time since his life changed.

"I played with [coach] Gary Stead in Canterbury for a decade. He's one of the unsung heroes," Cairns said of New Zealand's World Cup hopes. "The last two years I mean, you know, New Zealand cricket is very, very healthy."

Cairns had been in a motorised wheelchair until Wednesday, but he was given the all clear to use his upper body muscles following four operations on his chest.

Now 51, Cairns says the challenge is just beginning and he will meet with Canberra health staff next week to set some goals despite there being no timeframe to his recovery.

He is coming to grips with the possibility that he may be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Melanie said, "But rather than mourning a loss, we're so grateful for what we have.

"Chris didn't just have a stroke one day and [was gone], he had two weeks of being so close to [death]. So we start from a place of gratefulness, and every bit we get back after that is just an extra.

"He's here, he's still him. Yes there are physically challenges, but in the gym he said [to the staff] you show me the bar and I'm going to smash it down.

"He's super motivated to get back out on the tennis court with our daughter, whether that's running around or in a wheelchair. He's still going to try to beat her, that's who he is. That motivation puts him in a really good place to try to tackle something like this."

Cairns collapsed on August 8 and was taken to Canberra Hospital. He had two operations before being flown by emergency helicopter to St Vincent's in Sydney.

Two more heart surgeries saved his life, but he suffered a spinal stroke that left him with limited use of his legs.

"This is a journey we're all on now," Melanie said.

Cairns added: "It's the rehab side now. So at the University of Canberra Hospital, what's available to me has been fantastic. It's become a second home.

"So to be able to get a regime that's consistent, that gives you confidence that you can go out and have some semblance of security. I've been thankful that [the hospital] is wonderful and so the decision for us to stay here I couldn't be happier.

"But I have to tick boxes. We're talking months, or years, on what has to happen."

Melanie said the streamlined Canberra Health Services had made the biggest fight of their life easier to cope with.

"The way they've worked with different teams and ... we've been so lucky."

This story 'A grenade has gone off in his chest': Chris Cairns' fight to walk after cheating death first appeared on The Canberra Times.