A tragic surfing accident has left a former Port Stephens footballer with a spinal injury and a young shattered family eager to put the pieces together as they prepare for the long, hard road ahead.
Chris Poulos, formerly from Anna Bay now living in Belmont North, was airlifted to the Royal North Shore spinal unit in Sydney after being knocked unconscious when his head hit a sandbank at Dudley Beach on November 15.
Chris, who played junior rugby league with the Nelson Bay club from 1991-2003, was a hard working front-row forward who went on to play for the Northern Blues, winning three premierships from 2003-05.
After leaving school he embarked on a career in the disability sector, rising up the corporate ladder to become the Hunter regional manager at Disability Services Australia.
The 32-year-old husband and father, who since the accident has been diagnosed as a quadriplegic, is expected to spend months in Sydney undergoing treatment and rehabilitation.
Chris' father-in-law Ian Joseph, from Medowie, said that the family was already counting down the days to his return home.
"Chris has many friends from the Bay where he grew up and the support he and his family [wife Alanna and children Hunter, aged three, and Tyson, nine months] has received has been overwhelming," he said.
"Chris has always been a people's person. He loves to help people which is how he came to be appointed a regional manager at such a young age, and now he is this situation. It is heartbreaking."
The Poulos family has acknowledged the fact there is a "big journey ahead" as a quadriplegic and they remain positive in the hope that Chris can "defy the odds" during his recovery.
They are looking at a long road of hospital stays and rehab treatments.
"I can think, I can eat with support, I can move my biceps a little but I have no sensation in my fingers, or movement in my legs and no sensation from the stomach down," Chris said.
"I'm a very determined person and I've got two young, beautiful children and an amazing wife who has stood by me the past two weeks.
"Ideally, I want to walk again. If that's likely no one really knows. But I want to be able to play with my kids and hold my wife and live the best life I can."
Mr Joseph said that the family wanted to extend its gratitude to the surfers who pulled him out of the water, as well as the paramedics and hospital staff.
Friends and family have set up a GoFundMe in order to help ease the family's financial burden.
As of Monday, $108,695 had been raised through the 'Help Chris in his fight to defy his diagnosis' online fundraiser.