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Tauranga boy breaks neck bones after dive into shallow Waimapu Stream

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Te Mero Elder, 12, was swimming at Waimapu Stream in Oropi when he dived off a bank and broke his neck. Photos / Alex Cairns, Supplied

A Tauranga boy has “shattered” three bones in his neck after a shallow water diving accident, leaving his whānau “traumatised” as he faces a long recovery.

Te Mero Elder, 12, was swimming at Waimapu Stream in Oropi with his 14-year-old brother, Stormy-Jaye, on Saturday when he dived off a bank.

His grandmother, Teresa Taikato, told the Bay of Plenty Times the water was “too shallow” and Te Mero “knocked himself out” when he hit the bottom.

His mother, Hayley-Jaye Mclean, said: “It was the most horrific and most terrifying thing that I’ve ever experienced.”

Mclean said Stormy-Jaye saved Te Mero after realising he was not moving.

“He grabbed him out and pulled him up onto the bank,” the mother-of-five said.

Waimapu Stream in Oropi, Tauranga, where Te Mero Elder was swimming on the weekend. Photo / Alex Cairns
Waimapu Stream in Oropi, Tauranga, where Te Mero Elder was swimming on the weekend. Photo / Alex Cairns

“He was pretty traumatised from it. And he didn’t want to leave his side.”

Mclean said her 13-year-old daughter, Capriess, alerted her to Te Mero’s accident and she “ran” the short distance from their home to the stream.

She said Te Mero was conscious and could move his legs, but did not realise the extent of his injuries.

Te Mero has bone graft and spinal fusion surgeries

Mclean said Te Mero was taken to Tauranga Hospital, where Mclean was “gobsmacked” to discover Te Mero had broken three bones in his neck.

They were airlifted to Starship Hospital at about 2.30am on Sunday where Te Mero had MRI and CT scans and bone graft surgery.

This involved surgeons taking a piece of bone from Te Mero’s hip and replacing a broken bone in his neck with it, she explained.

Tauranga boy Te Mero Elder in hospital after he broke his neck during a shallow water diving accident.
Tauranga boy Te Mero Elder in hospital after he broke his neck during a shallow water diving accident.

Te Mero had spinal fusion surgery on Tuesday and had six screws put in the back of his neck.

This meant he could come out of his neck brace and was now wearing a “soft collar”.

He would hopefully be moved from the Intensive Care Unit into a ward this week, she said.

Te Mero facing ‘very long’ recovery

Taikato said it could take “months” for Te Mero to recover after he “shattered” some bones in his neck, while Mclean said Te Mero was facing a “very long” recovery.

“They can’t actually say how long it’s going to take – it’s up to the spinal cord because it’s bruised. They have no idea how long it will take to heal or if it will even heal,” Mclean said.

She said he had not been able to walk yet “but he’s got movement in his legs”.

Mclean was staying at Ronald McDonald House while Te Mero was in hospital.

She said he was an “awesome little rugby dude” and had been playing for a few years for the Greerton Marist Rugby Club.

“He’d love to be an All Black and if he doesn’t get there, he’ll be a sailor.

“He loves to do everything outside – he’s the most active child.”

Te Mero Elder was swimming at Waimapu Stream when the diving accident happened.
Te Mero Elder was swimming at Waimapu Stream when the diving accident happened.

Taikato said Te Mero was a student at Tauranga Intermediate School and “loved” sports, including sailing, rugby and jiu-jitsu.

She said Te Mero received a sailing scholarship last year through Merivale Primary School to cover the cost of his sailing competitions.

He went sailing every second weekend and had participated in sailing competitions in Auckland and Tauranga.

“He’s doing pretty good for his age. He’s only just started – he’s up there with the top ones.”

Taikato said he had a competition in April in Picton, but “I don’t think he’s going to make it to that”.

The whānau have set up a Givealittle page to help pay for travel between Auckland and Tauranga, and general living expenses.

Megan Wilson is a health and general news reporter for the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post. She has been a journalist since 2021.



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