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A groom’s special speech after tragedy strikes

STRONG BOND: Paul North married Diann Harris on Fraser Island on December 28. Paul survived a horrific freak accident that left him with a crushed skull. He has had to learn how to walk and talk again and as he focused on his rehabilitation, practising his groom’s speech so he could tell Diann how much he loved her at their upcoming wedding became his priority.
STRONG BOND: Paul North married Diann Harris on Fraser Island on December 28. Paul survived a horrific freak accident that left him with a crushed skull. He has had to learn how to walk and talk again and as he focused on his rehabilitation, practising his groom’s speech so he could tell Diann how much he loved her at their upcoming wedding became his priority.

IT'S a theme we have seen played out on the silver screen of the latest Hollywood romantic comedy time and time again - the idea that love can overcome anything, even the greatest of life's obstacles.

But to see it happen in real life is much more special.

On November 18, 2012, Diann Harris, 45, got a phone call that changed her life.

She had just started a new job at George Town Council in Beauty Point, Tasmania, and her partner of three-and-a-half years, Paul North, 44, was packing up their belongings in North Queensland so he could join her.

The two had joined the dating website RSVP and when they saw each other's profiles they each noticed that they had a lot in common.

The two had a shared love of motorcycles, football and fishing and after speaking on the phone, they decided to meet.

When they knew it was serious, Diann, who is originally from Maryborough, made the decision to move to North Queensland to start a life with Paul.

FAR LEFT: Paul North in hospital after the horrific freak accident that left him with severe head injuries.
FAR LEFT: Paul North in hospital after the horrific freak accident that left him with severe head injuries.

The power plant where Paul was working had just closed and he was out of a job.

Deciding the news offered an opportunity for a new adventure, Paul asked Diann if she wanted to move to a place he had always dreamed of living - Beauty Point.

But tragedy struck when Paul attempted to tie down his 300kg Harley motorbike on to the back of a trailer.

In a freak accident, the motorbike fell on top of him, crushing his skull.

Diann rushed to his side after she was told to get to Townsville Hospital as quickly as she could because "he may not make it".

Paul underwent life-saving surgery and had five metal plates inserted into his skull.

Diann told the council, where she had been working for three months, that she would need extended leave so she could be by Paul's side as he recovered.

She said they offered her their full support.

LEFT: Paul was left with five metal plates in his head after his 300kg motorbike fell on him and crushed his skull.
LEFT: Paul was left with five metal plates in his head after his 300kg motorbike fell on him and crushed his skull.

After five weeks in hospital, Paul was stable but the accident had left him unable to walk or talk and that meant Paul had to undergo extensive rehabilitation in order to regain those skills.

Diann was warned he might never walk or talk properly again.

But with the help of a speech pathologist and the rehabilitation team at Launceston General Hospital, Paul was able to regain his mobility.

His speech was still faltering, but was improving every day.

Because of the accident, Paul was left with little sense of time and was unable to remember how to use money.

The couple found ways of dealing with his condition as Paul began to do tasks around the house, setting alarms that would remind him about a job that needed doing.

Paul took on the responsibility of cooking dinner with the aid of the alarms that reminded him when he needed to turn off the oven - but no system was foolproof, Diann wryly acknowledged.

"He's only tried to burn the house down twice," she said.

"That's not too bad."

BELOW: Channel 7’s Today Tonight program covered the wedding, filming as the couple exchanged their vows.
BELOW: Channel 7’s Today Tonight program covered the wedding, filming as the couple exchanged their vows.

On Diann's birthday, Paul asked her if she would become his wife, a moment Diann had never believed would happen after the accident that almost claimed his life.

After their engagement, some people told Diann they had expected that, considering the challenges Paul was facing, she would eventually leave him.

"I told them 'don't be stupid,'" Diann said.

"That never entered my mind - I love him."

The accident, while terrible, brought them closer together, Diann said.

Despite the bad days where Paul gets frustrated with the limitations that have been placed upon him by the accident - and Diann acknowledges she has had her bad days too - they were able to build a life together.

"We stuck by each other," she said.

Paul knew their wedding would be more than a celebration of love - it would be a celebration of life.

And with the help of his rehabilitation team, he was determined to let Diann know exactly how much she meant to him on their special day.

In the weeks leading up to exchanging vows with the love of his life on December 28, 2013, Paul worked on both his groom's speech and his vows, determined he would be able to communicate what he wanted to say on one of the most important days of his life.

With both their families living in Maryborough, it made sense to both Paul and Diann to bring their wedding to the Fraser Coast.

They both wanted to be married on the beach and Fraser Island seemed to be the ideal place to hold their dream wedding.

After painstakingly working on the speech in rehab, Paul was not only able to say his vows, but give the speech he wanted to give to his new wife.

Diann said up until a few weeks ago, she was still Paul's "awfully" wedded wife, instead of his "lawfully" wedded wife as he struggled to enunciate the words.

But she cheekily assured him that was close enough.

After the wedding vows were exchanged, with Fraser Coast celebrant Christine Smith guiding the couple through the ceremony, and the two became husband and wife, it was time for Paul to give his speech in front of about 20 of the couple's closest friends and family.

Turning to his beautiful bride, Paul told those gathered that after four-and-a-half years, Diann had decided she could "put up with me and my ways".

"I must say that I am grateful for that," he said.

"Di has showed me that love is real and not just a word.

"I look forward to growing old disgracefully with her."

The couple can't afford to go on a honeymoon yet, but that's something they are greatly looking forward to doing in the future, Diann said.

In the meantime, Diann said Paul's condition had improved 500% since he first left the hospital all those months ago and she was looking forward to sharing a bright future together.

And as for the Harley-Davidson that caused Paul's injuries, it's still parked in the garage of the couple's home in Tasmania.

And while the couple acknowledge that it's unlikely Paul will be able to drive again for at least a few years, he says he dreams of riding his beloved motorbike again some day.

Topics:  editors picks marriage weddings



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