Dinesh Palipana is a Medal of the Order of Australia recipient, the subject of an Australian Story documentary, a rugby league team doctor and a decorated medical researcher. That is but a small part of his story.
In 2010, Dinesh, who already had a legal degree under his belt, was midway through his medical school training when one fateful day his car aquaplaned and he lost control. The car violently rolled nose to tail and when it came to a stop, the-then 25-year-old found himself conscious, but unable to move.
Dinesh was taken to hospital and when he eventually regained consciousness after surgery, the keen snowboarder and basketballer had been robbed of the use of his legs, with his fingers and everything below his chest impacted.
“There are some that say, ‘don’t get your hopes up’. But, it’s easy to be a pessimist. It’s hard to be an optimist. It’s even harder to be an optimist for a long period of time.”
Dinesh was hospitalised for seven months and then endured months of rehabilitation. In the following four years, he was readmitted to hospital multiple times as a result of life-threatening complications arising from his injuries.
“It was challenging adapting to using my chair. It was more a psychological challenge than a physical challenge. Like anything though, once you see something in the right light, things become easier. Today, it’s just like a pair of shoes. It helps me get around.”
In the early days, when he was dependent on his carers for everything from getting dressed to toileting, Dinesh says he spent many of his waking hours questioning what his new life may look like.
Dinesh says it was during this time, he stumbled upon the book Ego is the Enemy. It details how visionaries throughout time had put their higher goals above their desire for recognition.
“Later, I did the very same thing. I learned a lot during that time, because I saw it as an opportunity to become better in some way,” Dinesh says.
Still determined to complete his studies, he kept in contact with the Dean of the Medical School at Griffith University who promised to do all he could to assist Dinesh to complete his degree. But he faced another hurdle in his ambition to become a doctor when, in 2015, the Medical Deans of Australia and New Zealand issued a set of guidelines providing Australian Medical Schools the power to exclude students with a range of disabilities.
He fought hard to be allowed to continue his training as a quadriplegic doctor in partnership with Griffith University and the Gold Coast University Hospital. It is a fight he continues to this day, on behalf of others living with disability.
In 2016 he became the first quadriplegic medical graduate in the state of Queensland and just the second in Australia.
Today, Dinesh is at Gold Coast Hospital where he is the Senior House Officer of emergency medicine. Whilst some adaption has been necessary, he is still able to perform a largely independent role.
He has been a vocal advocate for inclusive employment, using his story to demonstrate ways in which doctors, and the wider population, can work effectively with disabilities.
Aside from his paid position, Dinesh also does all he can to prevent others facing the same challenges he has whilst strengthening his community connections. He is a member of the Commonwealth Treasury’s Inclusive Workplace Committee, an ambassador for Physical Disability Australia and sits on the scientific advisory committee of the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation.
Dinesh says his advocacy work has shown him that Australia has a fair bit of work to do in bringing employment equality to people.
When asked about the part his strong mental fortitude has played in both his successful recovery and his drive, Dinesh says there’s no magic formula. “If you want something, it’s about beating at that goal every single day. It’s not about the grand plan or the big scheme. It’s about putting disciplined effort in every single day. It’s about doing the small things well because big things are a collection of small things done well. This is all I did. Every single day.”
“Do I feel disabled? No. I feel more able than I ever have. I’ve learned a lot about myself. You can’t make a sword without beating steel in the hottest of fires. I feel like I am a much better person for what has happened. I am thankful.”