Stoic in the face of adversity

Earlier this year, lying in a bed at the Rankin Park Centre surrounded by messages of support and under his parents' watchful eye, Lawson Rankin began singing Sub Tuum Praesidium – his college anthem.

It was a powerful moment his mother, Therese Rankin, will never forget.

"I had passed Lawson two large cards, which included messages of support from staff and students at St Francis [Xavier]," says Therese, tears welling in her eyes. "Almost immediately, he began singing in Latin. I was in complete shock."

Lawson graduated from St Francis Xavier College, in Hamilton, in November 2019. His unexpected bout of singing was in response to a message from one of the college teachers, which read "Sing the Sub Tuum loud and proud.”

Following graduation, Lawson boarded a plane to Bali with a group of mates for a getaway planned as "the trip of a lifetime”. In addition to his schoolies trip with classmates, Lawson had made plans to tack on an extra week to go surfing with his older brother, Nelson.

On the second last day of his schoolies adventure, Lawson was involved in a motorbike accident. His decision to pursue a local, who had stolen his friend’s phone, changed the trajectory of his life forever.

When Lawson's friends, also on motorbikes, caught up to him they found his bike on the side of the road and using torches on their phones discovered his body wedged under a concrete driveway, face-down, with water flowing over him.

Lawson’s injuries were extensive and serious, including severe traumatic brain injury, a C4 fracture, and aspiration pneumonia.

His father, Phil Rankin, describes the moment he received the call telling him of the accident as "every parent’s worst nightmare".

"Therese and I got a wake-up call at 4am, and by 9.30am I was on a plane to Bali," Phil says.

In Bali he was overwhelmed by what he saw − his son was lying unconscious with multiple head wounds and surrounded by wires and lifesaving devices.

"It was frightening, but it was also such a relief to be with him," Phil says.

Meanwhile, Therese, who fainted when she first heard the news, remained in Newcastle. When Lawson's schoolmates returned to Newcastle, they visited his home supported by their parents, some of whom had also been in Bali.

"There were more than 20 people here," Therese says. "I was emotional as I read the message Lawson's cousins had prepared for a GoFundMe page and in a moment I will never forget, they turned to me and said, 'Let’s bring Lawson home. We will ensure this message is shared with everyone.'" It was a comforting thought for the distressed mother.

Quotes from medical retrieval operators ranged between $120,000 to $150,000 for the flight back to Australia with Lawson and this was on top of charges of $7,000 for each day he remained in hospital in Bali.

As news of the accident circulated, people from Newcastle, the Hunter and around the world began sending love and support in the form of prayers, messages, meals and money. Before too long, thanks to the generosity of others and with Lawson's condition requiring further attention, Lawson and his dad were able to board a chartered medical evacuation flight home.

Phil says it is hard to put into words how grateful the family are for the support they and Lawson have received.

"It was a tremendous emotional boost,” Phil says. “While we were in Bali, there was a constant channel of people saying they were praying for Lawson and it was such a relief to know that so many people have faith and were sharing their love by praying."

When Lawson, still in a coma, was placed on the Medivac flight to return home, doctors were expecting his condition to deteriorate. So, when his vital signs improved, everyone was in absolute amazement.

"I turned to the doctor and said, 'I know he knows he is going home’," Phil says.

Therese describes meeting Lawson at the Prince of Wales as bittersweet. And then scans showed the extent of his brain injury.

"We were surrounded by a team of doctors when they delivered the horrific news," Therese says, adding "We were to prepare ourselves that Lawson’s state could be

as good as it would get.” Since that day, however, Lawson has continued to defy the odds and is making a healthy recovery.

“We are so grateful for the Australian healthcare system, the doctors and nurses and all the staff in all the hospitals he has stayed in. We live in a lucky country,” Phil says.

In conversation with Lawson now, it's hard to believe his experiences over the past seven months. He explains the effect of his injuries. "Well, I hit my head so hard I've had to learn to walk and talk again," and laughs, "plus, I got 30 stitches in my head."

The family, which also includes his older brothers Campbell and Nelson, meets each step in Lawson's recovery with gratitude. When he began to sing Sub Tuum Praesidium in Latin he was just coming out of post amnesia, and his parents were completely thrown.

Therese, a respected teacher in the Diocese of more than 30 years, called her former colleague who had delivered the card.

"I said, 'Is this for real? Is this the correct pronunciation?'" and placed Lawson on speaker. His teacher started singing along with him, just as they would during college assemblies.

It's a song sung in many schools with a Marist tradition, and when translated into English, reads:

We take refuge under thy protection, Holy Mother of God:

Do not despise our prayers in time of necessity:

but always free us from all dangers,

O blessed and glorious Virgin.

"Until that moment we didn't know how much Lawson would recall, so it was such a beautiful surprise," Therese says.

Photos of the Saint Francis Xavier College community have remained with Lawson over the past several months, as he has travelled between medical facilities. The Rankin family are grateful for the thoughtfulness and support they have received, particularly from the diocesan network of staff and students, which has helped them through the darkest of days.

"It hasn't crossed my mind to give up,” says Lawson. “This experience is just something  I have to go through. This is going to pass; it's not going to be forever. I'm in this situation because of my decision. I have to back those decisions and handle the consequences."

Lawson is determined not to let his "unplanned gap year" deter him from achieving his goals.

"I want to build my strength and walk confidently into the room to greet this year's HSC students when they finish their exams," he says. "My physical recovery is entirely based on my mental game. So, if I think I won't get through, I won't. If I think I will, I will."

To assist him in meeting this goal, and aid his rehabilitation, i Gym Forster 247 donated equipment to Lawson. The teen has also embraced various modalities including; biochemistry testing, hydration and nutritional programs, physio, occupational and speech therapy, virtual reality, kinesiology, chiropractic, breath work and massage, which when combined with his mental resolve, are placing him in great stead to achieve success.

Phil says the experience has encouraged them never to give up, and live in deep appreciation of their blessings in Lawson's recovery.

"Therese, his brothers and I have fallen in love with Lawson's attitude. He has never complained, he has accepted responsibility for what's happened and been an inspiration to many,” he says.

“I honestly believe Lawson's become a better person and a better man. He's shown us his true nature, which is stoic in the face of adversity."


Lawson and his family share some of the insights into what’s working for them during his recovery

Appreciate life. Lawson says it’s important to accept “bad” things when they happen, because when “good” things happen your past experiences will make you appreciate them so much more. “There is something good that can come from every experience.”

Keep connected. Lawson’s father, Phil, keenly backs research that states the benefits of being surrounded by a strong network of support, particularly during challenging times. “People need people, it’s as simple as that.”

Your mindset is everything. “If you think bad thoughts, bad things will happen. Conversely, if you think good things will happen, good things will happen,” says Lawson.

Focus on the now. For anyone going through a tough experience, Phil recommends not making it out to be too big of a thing. It will pass. “Stay true to what’s needed at the time, and trust in your beliefs.”

Your result is entirely based on you. Lawson is a firm believer in not making excuses. If you want to do well, you must put in the effort. “Show up every day and work hard, never give up.”

When the going gets tough, knuckle down. Lawson first heard the saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” at junior football. Since then, he has adopted it as his motto and used it as his driver to knuckle down and put in the hard work.

Keep hydrated. Phil has completed 10 years of study in human biochemistry and says ensuring Lawson has remained hydrated has been a top priority. When Phil arrived in Bali, he had brought along with him his testing kit to check Lawson’s biochemistry and found he was severely dehydrated. Doctors have been flawed by the impact monitoring Lawson’s hydration has had on his overall recovery, and his mother has ensured he always has access to nutritious meals.

It takes what it takes. When Lawson was in the early stages of post amnesia, his father gave him a book called It Takes What It Takes, How to Think Neutrally and Gain

Control of Your Life written by Trevor Moawad. Lawson says this book, his family’s attitude and his parents’ support are invaluable in his recovery.

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Lizzie Watkin Image
Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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