SUPERMUM JO: Son 'saved her life' after serious spine injury
EVERY morning Jo Gilchrist would wake up in hospital and look at the pictures of her son Tommy plastered on the walls around her, knowing he was the reason she was fighting so hard to gain back the use of her legs.
In the four years after surgeons told the single mum she'd likely never walk again, Miss Gilchrist says Tommy has been her "biggest cheerleader".
She has not only built up her strength to divide her time between walking and sitting in a wheelchair, she is determined to ensure her little boy never misses out on anything in life.
In 2015, Miss Gilchrist contracted a staph infection, most likely through a friend's make-up brush, that caused an abscess to grow in her spine.
It started with with terrible back pain but then over the next few days she started to lose feeling, starting in one leg then rising all the way up to her chest.
Coming out of surgery a week after she'd first gone to hospital, surgeons told her she was a paraplegic.
"I had tears rolling down my cheeks but I just couldn't picture it, I was just thinking in my head this isn't how my story ends," Miss Gilchrist said.
The former Warwick woman spent the next five months in hospital doing everything she could, including exercises in her hospital bed, to build up her strength.
Miss Gilchrist said she considered herself one of the lucky ones, because if her spine had been severed she never would have walked again.
"Giving up just wasn't an option for me because, I guess I was a bit ignorant, but I couldn't picture myself being in a wheelchair and doing everything for me and for him," she said.
"I'm so motivated to give Tommy exactly the same life he would have had if I didn't have this.
"I want him to be able to do everything every other kid does without me feeling like I'm holding him back."
Miss Gilchrist, 31, says she's now at the point where the duo can do everything others can, even if it might take a little longer, including trips to the zoo as well as dancing and singing in the lounge room.
But movie nights in her bed with just the two of them is her favourite way to spend time together.
"He's my biggest cheerleader and he's so empathetic and caring because he did have to grow up a lot quicker than other kids his age," she said.
"He's the sweetest and most beautiful boy. I walk out of the room and feel like rubbish and he'll say, 'Gosh you look beautiful, Mum'."
Miss Gilchrist heads to Making Strides, a spinal cord injury recovery centre, twice a week at Burleigh Heads, about an hour from her current home of Brisbane.
She says she'll need to continue working on her strength for the rest of her life to maintain her progress.
"It's been just over a year with Making Strides and they've literally changed my life. I'm so much stronger physically and mentally," she said.
Miss Gilchrist sometimes still suffers nerve pain and spasms, and some days she can't walk at all.
Tommy is always right by her side.
"When I'm having a spasm he'll be the first one to run over and put his hands on my legs to stop it," she said.
"If I tip in my wheelchair he's the first one to run over. He's had to call the ambulance before for me.
"We've been through a lot together and we're a bloody good team.
"For the first time in a really long time in my life I'm in such a good place and I owe so much to Making Strides and that little boy."
Miss Gilchrist says she knows life can be tough, but encourages others who may be struggling to take life one day at a time.
"If you do have a bad day that's OK, just wake up the next day and try again," she said.
"In our kids' eyes we are bloody heroes, we don't even have to be heroes. You make dinner and you're a hero in their eyes."