Funds flood in fast for Busselton teacher

‘Lucky’, ‘blessed’ or ‘fortunate’ aren’t the first words that come to mind when you consider the position Busselton’s Filipiak family have found themselves in.

But those are the words Maryanne Filipiak used when she spoke to the Mail to express her gratitude to the community and to detail the accident that left her husband, John, possibly facing the future as a quadriplegic.

Mr Filipiak, a teacher at St Mary MacKillop College known affectionately as ‘Flippa’, was involved in a catastrophic car accident in July when a wild storm struck the South West.

Flippa was travelling to Bunbury to tutor students on July 27 when the accident occurred. 

Weather conditions were so extreme that Flippa’s vehicle was pushed to the road shoulder by the wind, before it aquaplaned off the road, eventually flipping and landing upside down between trees.

Ms Filipiak said her husband questioned whether he should travel in the storm conditions but decided to continue as ‘he isn’t the sort of person to let people down’.

She praised the couple who discovered Flippa and the emergency response.

“John was really lucky as his car was black and many people didn't see him as they were swerving away from the curve of the road,” she said.

“Thankfully, a couple from Capel were travelling passed and decided to turn around because they noticed fresh tyre marks.”

Ms Filipiak said the 58-year-old was remarkably calm after the accident and in the months that followed.

"He didn’t lose consciousness, the first thing he said to the emergency team was I’m paralysed, he stayed calm and allowed them to do what need to do,” she said.

“He’s an amazing person and has never complained.

“We are blessed as the spinal cord was not severed but the injury was catastrophic and he was unable to move anything.”

Following the accident, Flippa was transferred by helicopter to Royal Perth Hospital and underwent spinal surgery.

A plate was placed between his C3 and C4 vertebrae and he was in a neck brace for three months.

He is currently in Shenton Park Quadriplegic Centre working on his recovery with occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

His hard work has resulted in some movement in his right arm and the ability to control his wheelchair with his head. 

A Go Fund Me campaign to raise $100,000 to purchase a customised vehicle to accommodate his wheelchair has reached more than $47,000 in just 12 days.

Ms Filipiak said she, John and their children, Rebek, Peter and Sasha, were floored by the outpouring of donations.

“We are absolutely gobsmacked that people would contribute that sort of money,” she said.

“We are in awe, John doesn’t know what to say – there is simply no words for this kind of generosity.”

The fundraiser was started by Flippa’s long-time friend and colleague Geraldine Gamble. 

Ms Gamble said she wasn’t surprised to see the rallying of support for Flippa, who she described as kind, generous and a man who constantly went above and beyond for others.

“He is the most selfless man you will meet and the way donations have flowed speaks volumes about his character and the regard people hold him in,” she said. 

Fortunately, changes to the family home to accommodate Flippa have been covered through the insurance commission.

However, assistance couldn’t be provided for the vehicle, as the accident didn’t involve a third party.

Ms Filipiak said the vehicle would have been financially impossible for the family.

“It has been a Godsend to have so much of the house covered but when it got to cars prices it was totally scary,” she said.

“I thought unless I win Lotto this is not going to happen.

“When Geraldine said she wanted to do something for us I was embarrassed, I thought you can’t ask people for that but she insisted and said let us do this for John.”

Ms Filipiak said she believed John’s positive spirit had played a huge role in where he was now in the recovery process.

"John is so committed to his quality of life and getting the best movement he can – he has not once every been like poor me,” she said.

“The prognosis is that he is highly unlikely to ever walk again, but the specialist said you’ve proved me wrong before and I want you to do it again, and we intend to them prove wrong. 

“We flatly refuse to give up hope.”

Flippa aims to return to work for a few hours a week in March or April 2018.

Ms Filipiak thanked Ms Gamble and everyone involved in the campaign.

Donations can be made at gofundme.com/934av-wheels-for-john or at Geographe Saws and Mowers, Laundry 43, Busselton Senior Citizen's Centre and Mark Trovato Chartered Accountants.