WHEN South African triathlete Richard Holland kissed his Canadian girlfriend Krysia Maciejewski goodbye before heading out for an early morning training ride in Dubai last October, little did the pair know their lives were about to change forever
Holland, who had represented his country at the 2007 World Championships in Hamburg, Germany, was hit from behind by a car, sustaining multiple life-threatening injuries.
The 30-year-old was rushed to hospital where he underwent life-saving surgery to relieve swelling on his brain.
He also had broken ribs, punctured lungs, a fractured sternum, and a broken leg. But more seriously, he had injured his brain stem.
The brain stem connects the head to the spinal cord and co-ordinates signals sent from the brain to the body. When it's damaged, the messages cannot get through.
After three months in hospital, Holland was able to be flown home to Cape Town where he remains in a waking coma, known as locked-in syndrome, in a rehabilitation centre.
He cannot walk, talk, eat, or do anything for himself, but his girlfriend won't ever leave him - he's still the man she fell in love with after they met in Dubai.
But it's not only Krysia who is determined to stand by her man, his younger sister Pippa is making plans to leave Melbourne to move home to the Republic to be with her "hero".
She has been home three times since she first got the devastating news from Dubai, and said she could no longer bear to be away.
"Rich and I are very, very close. We always have been," Pippa said.
"I have to be there with him, it feels right.
"I believe that if anyone can get through this and regain some movement, or the ability to communicate, it's Rich. He's my hero and always will be."
Pippa said that she had no idea how extensive Richard's injuries were as she raced to Dubai.
"For some reason I thought everything would be absolutely fine. I had a visual of going into the ICU and Rich saying "Hi Pips"," she said.
"I cannot explain how it felt to see someone you love so much in a condition like Rich was. It was heartbreaking."
As for Krysia, Pippa describes her as an angel.
"Krysia has been the most incredible woman through this terrible tragedy. She has in many ways lost the love of her life and she has had to mourn that loss, even though Rich is still with us," she said.
"She has been unwavering in her love and dedication towards Rich.
"We love her. She is family. Rich wanted to marry her, and one day, we hope he can."
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