A building accident broke his neck and almost pushed him to suicide, yet Rhett Brown has fought on to become a motivational speaker and author
Once an active adventurer who hunted game, former policeman and judo competitor, in July 2004 Rhett Brown became a tetraplegic after a fall from makeshift scaffolding in Omaha, north of Auckland, crushed a vertebrae in his neck and sent a burning sensation through his body.
“Just weeks before,” Rhett begins, “I had told God that I was finished with working in cold wet weather and wanted an inside sit-down job.”
Now a remade man and workplace safety speaker in demand throughout New Zealand, Rhett jokes, “Be careful what you ask God for!”
The accident completely dislocated two neck vertebrae and crushed another, paralysing 86% of his body.
“The enormity of that was impossible to take in,” Rhett says. “I thought I would be a vegetable, I had no hope. I just wanted to die.”
After being revived twice, in the helicopter and later in the ER, Rhett woke up with a titanium plate and eight screws in his neck and could only think about suicide.
“I asked myself, what had I done so wrong in my life? I wanted to die so I could grill God about why He had done this to me.
“Six weeks after the accident my wife asked for a divorce. I felt like I was on trial.”
Driving his electric wheelchair in front of a truck looked like an easy way to die, but as he parked on the footpath, passing travellers smiled, tooted their horns and wished him good luck.
Embarrassed, he returned the next day and received more good wishes. The third day it was raining and he realised he did not have the courage to kill himself.
“In that moment of realisation I was given the strength to face my disability and try to achieve something,” he recalls.
“I never thought who was behind all these happenings, or why I had now been saved from death six times.”
After two years of around-the-clock care in an aged care facility, Rhett found land in Whangarei and the finances to design and build his own house.
He then recalls being struck by the encouragements of a “wonderful Christian caregiver”.
“She gently pointed out to me that perhaps these good things happening in my life were because of God. Through her words, I started to have more faith in God.”
Later that year, Rhett went to a bush track, a place of strength for him as a former professional hunter, and spontaneously decided to pray.
“I asked God why He was doing all these good things for me, when I was such a denier. I confessed many things to Him and I asked Him into my life.”
As he did this, Rhett remembers that something wonderful happened.
“As I gave myself to God, I felt as if my destiny was fulfilled! I began to cry. Spiritually, I felt relieved, happy and very calm.
“It was wonderful to not be a denier anymore. The love of Jesus was in my heart and I was bursting happiness.”
At first, his prayers were more like a shopping list, Rhett says, but after a year, “I began to pray by thanking Jesus for everything and asking for little. After all, Jesus, being God, already knows my needs.”
In 2009, he went to a church service, and he remembers that as he entered the doors, “I felt a huge jolt to my body, as if something had left me for good.” That day, Rhett says, he just wanted to be there worshipping God, and he has continued worshipping Jesus Christ and surrendering himself ever since.
“I have come to love Jesus,” Rhett explains. “I have accepted Him as my Saviour, the one who took the punishment for my sins, and I am happy to have my destiny with Him, the hope of eternal life.”
Rhett now fully believes that God did not cause his fall, but that He stopped that fall from killing him, saved him two more times that day, and prevented three attempts at suicide.
“Rescued six times — is that not a powerful declaration of unconditional love by our Lord?” Rhett asks. “God did not abandon me even though I denied Him. I, for one, have been completely convinced and converted to worship and praise Him. I have found it so fulfilling and rewarding to love Him back as faithfully as He has always loved me.”
Rhett’s journey from paralysis to the speaking circuit is detailed in a self-published book — This Way Up - Where Would I Be Without A Good Set of Wheels?
He still requires 24/7 care by four caregivers, and following surgery he now has movement in his right thumb, which he used to type the initial 55,000 word manuscript of his book.
‘This Way Up’ is available from www.rhettbrown.co.nz.