Young spinal victim set to see his All Black idols

John Carney

One spectator from Hong Kong will savour the occasion more than anyone else when New Zealand and Australia take to the pitch today in a rugby union World Cup semi-final at Eden Park in Auckland.

Sixteen-year-old Adam Prentice was elated when he got tickets for some early World Cup pool matches as a Christmas present from his parents. He had played rugby since he was a young boy and is a big fan of the All Blacks.

However, a serious spinal injury he suffered while playing the game he loved looked to have left his dreams in tatters until Hong Kong’s caring rugby community came to the rescue.

With the help of the Hong Kong Football Club, DHL provided Adam and his father, Noel, the Post’s sports editor, with business-class flights to New Zealand, along with two tickets to both semi-final matches. On top of this, Societe Generale gave them tickets to the final.

Adam was hurt while playing for Island School at the Football Club in March. He was transferred to the traumatology unit at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital. After initially not looking as bad as first diagnosed, new X-rays told a different story a few weeks later.

Within an hour, doctors had a halo traction device screwed into his head and a weight-and-pulley system stretching his spine. It was decided that he should have an operation where bone would be taken from his pelvis to fuse together the C2 and C3 cervical vertebrae in his neck that had been affected.

This proved to be an ordeal in itself as tubes were put down his nose while he was still awake because the spinal operation had to be carried out with him lying face down.

Three months later doctors removed the brace and let Adam strengthen his neck, but it became progressively worse and the wound also became infected and would not heal.

Over the course of a month or so Adam’s condition deteriorated and an X-ray then showed problems with the C4 and C5 vertebrae in his neck.

He was put back in another brace, which he is still wearing today. The wound has still not healed, but it is hoped he will not need another operation.

Adam steadily progressed but it looked like his chances of getting to the World Cup were over – until the Hong Kong rugby community helped out.

Flying business class to New Zealand meant Adam could stretch out, making the journey safer.

‘I had no idea about anything until people started bringing it up recently so it aroused my suspicions,’ Adam said before leaving. ‘It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’m very grateful to everyone.’

Testament to unwavering support from the rugby community is the help and fund-raising that was also organised for 19-year-old Ben Kende and his family after a freak accident in a match left the rising Hong Kong star a tetraplegic.

‘It’s pretty overwhelming how the rugby community rally round at a time like this,’ Noel Prentice said. ‘The duty of care they have for those who get injured is amazing.’

Adam’s injury has produced some heart-warming stories.

England fly half Jonny Wilkinson sent him a video message wishing him a speedy recovery, saying he had many injuries in his life but they were nothing to what Adam was going through.

A taxi driver once swerved across traffic to pick him up in a no-go zone because he saw him wearing the halo and had suffered a similar nightmare 20 years ago.

Now all that is left is for the All Blacks to win the World Cup.

‘I’ll just have to be very careful how I celebrate it,’ said Adam.