Mother reveals heartbreak caused by punch

ONE PUNCH: Tyla Rackemann suffered brain damage after being assaulted. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail
ONE PUNCH: Tyla Rackemann suffered brain damage after being assaulted. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail Mike Knott

As Kyle Morris was sentenced last week for a one-punch assault outside a Childers pub, the victim's mother tells of her heartache and the enormous impact the incident has had on a whole family.

This is Jo-Anne Rackemann's story in her own words.

AT 2AM on March 2, 2013, I was woken by the phone call that would change our lives forever.

"Are you Tyla Rackemann's mother?," said the voice on the other end.

"He's been admitted to the Bundaberg Base Hospital with a serious head injury and is non-responsive. I think it would be a good idea if you were to come to the hospital immediately."

I told the nurse I would get dressed and ring back, because I was not really taking all this in and had become very emotional.

I phoned the hospital back a short time later and was told Tyla was in a critical condition after being assaulted outside a pub in Childers and would need to be flown to Brisbane as soon as there was a flight available.

It seemed to be a classic one-punch scenario.

He had been punched to the head, knocked off his feet and his head had slammed into the concrete of the path outside the pub. That was all we knew.

We arrived at the hospital at 3am and found my son in the emergency ward.

He had tubes, machines and several needles hanging from his motionless body.

He had tubes, machines and several needles hanging from his motionless body.

The doctors informed us that he had a fractured cheekbone and a possible skull fracture.

They would know more after he had a scan, but could not do that for a time because he was too unstable.

ONE PUNCH: Tyla Rackemann suffered brain damage after being assaulted. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail
ONE PUNCH: Tyla Rackemann suffered brain damage after being assaulted. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail Mike Knott

Did he have a heart problem, because his heart was beating very slowly?

Was he allergic to this medication or that?

Did I know what had happened that evening?

The doctors had grave concerns for his recovery.

After what seemed like hours, we decided that we had best inform my other son and Tyla's daughter.

By now, Tyla had had his scan and we were told that he had bleeding both outside of the skull and inside the brain.

His condition was now looking worse.

The bleeding outside of the skull was not the concern, but the bleeding on the brain would most likely result in some long-term brain damage.

His brain had also shifted 7mm to the right, indicating the amount of fluid that had built up around his skull.

Soon after, his brother arrived at hospital and the hours seemed to drag as we embarked on the bedside ritual that would continue for several more weeks, particularly for me.

As I sat there, I looked back on the previous afternoon, which Tyla and I had spent together.

We had had the best time - laughing and joking and talking of the plans we had.

Let's go to the State of Origin this year, let's go fishing, let's have a game of golf. I had been hopeful of doing all these fun things with both my boys.

We were also looking forward to the birth of our older son's child, which had given us another reason to return to the district and spend more time with family.

I had been living in South Australia with my partner, Michael, for the past 12 years and had only just arrived back in Queensland, having missed so much of my sons' lives.

I hadn't been able to attend a birthday or significant event in Tyla's life due to distance for more than a decade. 

I felt I had to make up for some lost time - not like this, though.

I pleaded to be given more time with him.

At that point I honestly believed he might not make it.

After several hours of agonising waiting, Tyla was finally to be flown down to Brisbane.

But just prior to the flight, the accompanying doctor on the aircraft gave us a warning: due to Tyla's head injury and the problem with his heart, he wanted to warn us that if anything should happen in the air he did not have the equipment onboard to revive him.

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You cannot imagine what those words did to me. I realised I might never see my son alive again.

How could I let him go without him knowing that we were there?

How could I watch him being placed in the ambulance, headed for the airport, and not be able to go with him?

I was physically sick.

We now had a four-hour drive to Brisbane, not knowing whether Tyla had made the flight or not. I touched his foot, not knowing if I would ever touch him again. At this point, I almost collapsed and my older son said: "Mum, we have to keep going for Tyla."

As we drove back, I wondered what life would mean for Tyla now.

I also wondered what effect it would have on my and Michael's life.

ONE PUNCH: Tyla Rackemann's fractured skull. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail
ONE PUNCH: Tyla Rackemann's fractured skull. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail Mike Knott

We had just left a stressful life in South Australia looking after Michael's ageing parents without much support from his siblings and we were looking forward to a life with less responsibility and more flexibility.

A life with the freedom to come and go. Our new life together.

We arrived in Brisbane to find Tyla had made it alive.

He was taken to intensive care, where he remained for the next six days. His body began to come alive.

Each step was like a milestone in a child's life.

We got excited when he moved his toes, because we had been told he may not be able to walk again. We became excited when he opened his eyes.

We became excited when he said "Mum". He could speak; we had been told he may not speak again.

He was still asleep most of the time, but we noticed that his awake time was lasting a little longer, from seconds to minutes.

Eventually some of the tubes supporting his life were removed. He was still being fed via a tube, but every time something was removed from his body it was a sign of hope.

But after a while, Tyla was starting to become agitated by the boredom of the hospital routine and was having difficulty being restrained in the hospital ward.

He was not allowed to leave the ward because he was still in post-traumatic amnesia.

This added extra pressure on me, as my visits to the hospital now became twice daily.

I needed to have the breaks in the middle of the day due to the hopelessness I was feeling, because we had been unable to help Tyla understand the extent of his injuries.

He believed he was okay and just wanted to go home.

After several weeks, Tyla was sent back to Bundaberg Hospital for a short stint until a place became available in the Princess Alexandra Hospital's brain injury unit.

During this time, he became even more unreasonable and participated even less in his rehabilitation because he just couldn't understand why he couldn't go home, and most of my visits ended in tears.

I couldn't find a single moment in the day when Tyla's welfare was not on my mind.

By early April, a place at the brain injury unit opened up and Tyla was admitted.

The staff at the PA were fantastic and I became very much a part of his rehabilitation team.

Tyla was still in post-traumatic amnesia and I was told this was because his head injury was so severe.

With each passing day I prayed that he would get out of PTA because the longer he was in this stage, the worse his long-term prospects were.

The days dragged on, Tyla was still unable to understand the seriousness of his injuries.

His moods became more unpredictable and most days he took it out on me.

After three weeks, the staff agreed that his best outcome would be to return home and have outreach care.

He was released into our care with 24-hours-a-day supervision. There were still risks involved - seizures.

Having Tyla out of hospital at least meant Michael and I could be back together, but it also meant we had to secure more suitable accommodation, because all we had was our caravan in preparation for our anticipated grey nomad experience.

We started out in holiday accommodation in Woodgate before staying for a little while with friends in Avondale, who were kind enough to let us use their shed for as long as we liked.

Eventually, we found a place in Bundaberg and rented it for six months.

Now, just over a year since that life-changing incident, the lease on that house is almost up and we're still up in the air about what to do.

It feels as though we've been anticipating the outcome of the court case for a very long time but, although that has now given us a legal result, it has done nothing to change the enormous impact this has had on so many lives.

As things stand now, Tyla has regained some of his long-term memory, but his memory is still sometimes poor on things that happen on a day-to-day basis.

He finds it difficult to communicate and, as a consequence, has become quite reclusive.

He has no memory of the incident.

He is unable to work, drive a car and is under constant supervision.

That he is in his mid-30s and living with his mother and her partner is something he finds very difficult to accept.

From my own point of view, this has impacted on my partner and I enormously because we are unable to make any plans regarding our future and the travelling we wanted to do.

I grieve the loss of the son I remember, and I hold grave concerns for his welfare over the long term.

I also grieve the loss of my own dreams.

We came back to Queensland for a stress-free life and instead have probably endured the most stressful period of our lives.

Given my time over, I would drop everything to take care of my son every time, without doubt.

But this isn't the life any of us would have chosen.

All we can do now is get through each day and hope that, eventually, Tyla will be well enough to live on his own and support himself.

And that, at some point, Michael and I can take that holiday we've been dreaming of for years.

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