Joseph Butters story

We are so lucky we still have him

When four year old Joseph Butters left for preschool one morning in 2003, his family couldn’t possibly have known the traumatic event that was about to occur.

The Kohanga Reo van that he was travelling in, with nine other children, collided with a freight train in Wanganui. Flashing lights and bells were working at the crossing at the time.

“We are so lucky we still have him,” his mother Suzanne Butters says. “The doctors initially only gave him a five percent chance of surviving.

He spent two weeks in a coma on life support, and after that we spent over three months in the Wilson Rehabilitation Centre in Auckland, where Joe had to learn to eat, walk and talk all over again.

Apart from a few “beauty” scars on his forehead, Joe’s injuries are not immediately obvious, but he now struggles with a lifelong brain injury.

“The events of that morning are affecting him now and will affect him for the rest of his life,” says Suzanne. “Joseph will never be the child he was going to be and we are still very much in un-chartered waters.

“He is doing really well and making progress, but he is behind his peers cognitively, and we just don’t know what lies ahead for him. Fatigue is also a huge issue.”

The past eight years have been a challenge for the whole Butters family. At times Suzanne has found day to day life difficult to cope with, and she had to give up her job to care for Joseph following the collision.

However Suzanne says there is one saving grace which is that Joseph has no memory of the collision. “I’m not sure about the other children who were in the van that day – they could very well still have nightmares,” she says.

Sue now works as a diversional therapist for a brain rehabilitation centre in Wanganui, and drives over the same crossing every day.

“I see cars that don’t slow down and don’t even look for trains, and I think to myself, if only they knew.

“People just need to take time and pay attention, because the consequences are just not worth it.”