Knocked Sideways

When I first heard this story break on Wednesday it was enough to suck the oxygen out of the room.

And ignore the fact it involves a former sports star. You could argue that without him it may not have not got the airplay that it did, but desperately needed.

During the 1980’s and early 90’s, rugby league great, Brett Kenny, was a freakish talent. He featured in four grand final wins for the Parramatta Eels and represented NSW and Australia on seventeen occasions.

Most of all, for a bloke who didn’t have a lot of size about him he seemed unbreakable.

Until now.

In February this year, his step son Riley Hilditch cracked his C5 vertebrae in a diving accident at Chittaway Bay on the Central Coast. He now faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

Understandably, his family has been upended in the most unexpected ways. Riley’s mother Suzanne has been inseparable from her son ever since he was flown to Royal North Shore in February and more recently, Westmead Children’s Hospital.

And while both Brett and Suzanne have temporarily moved into a unit at Westmead to be closer to their son, they’ve also been busy making major modifications to the home. A lifetime of rehabilitation for Riley is just a given.

In the meantime, along with all the other emotional, mental and physical pressures that come from an accident like this, the bills have continued to mount.

Tragedies like these have a permanence you don’t even want to think about. The carers fight for survival eventually equals that of the victim.

Therefore, to help offset some of the financial pain, a fundraiser was organised at Tumbi Umbi on the weekend. Every big name in rugby league was there and by all accounts Brett Kenny was in great spirits.

Most of all, everyone noted how he had been a pillar of strength for his wife and step-son in the previous months. He made sure Suzanne had a soft place to fall.

But little did the gathering know, Brett aged 56 was sitting on a time bomb of his own. Earlier that week, he’d been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

He didn’t want to tell anyone just to make sure it didn’t detract from the occasion. Such is the character of the man.

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.
Brett and Suzanne are now right up against it in every way imaginable (if you could imagine it).

Until recently, Brett was the sole breadwinner while Suzanne maintained a 24hr vigil over her wheel-chair bound son. But all that has changed. Suzanne now looking down the barrel of possibly losing her husband, having no income, and mounting medical bills.

Sadly, it also seems the Kenny family were under insured, if at all.

There’s a lot we still don’t know about cancer, but what we do know is it doesn’t discriminate.

Whenever tragedy strikes, be it a serious injury or illness, one of the first questions carers and victims ask is, “do we have enough money”? It might sound mercenary but it’s just a natural reaction.

Therefore, the last thing I ever want to do is point the finger in hindsight. So, to help prevent being in a similar situation yourself, you might want to consider the following precautionaries:

If you have a young child like Riley, you could consider trauma insurance to cover for any serious injury or illness.

For a parent, life insurance plus some income protection is an absolute must for anyone with dependent’s and a mortgage.

Trauma insurance would also be beneficial. In Brett’s case, it would have given him a lump sum payment upfront to take care of all the big bills while his income protection would have given him a steady flow of income for 2-5 years, possibly indefinitely.

The life and income protection could also have been funded out of his super if cashflow was tight, as is often the case.

People say don’t let money be your God, and I agree. But here’s the other thing I’ve learnt from situations like this. Money becomes your God when you don’t have any.

Sadly, Riley’s biggest loss won’t just be his Dad (if it eventually comes to that), it will be his Mum. Unfortunately, she will become so preoccupied with their survival that it will be very hard for her to be ‘present’ the way an undistracted parent otherwise would be.

I don’t know how people recover from a situation like this, but somehow most find a way of managing.

Many years ago, a friend’s brother was rendered a quadriplegic after a serious car accident and the impact on the family was massive.

Anyway, one day while discussing a particularly tough challenge, I asked how her parents were coping and without battering an eyelid, she just looked at me and said, ‘God only gives us the challenges we can handle’.

It’s small change but I hope the Kenny’s can eventually reach a similar state of mind.

Have a great weekend!


P.s. thank you for the emails following last week’s post re ‘bill shock’. I already had a Moowsletter drafted to address what bill shock means for investors, however given what’s transpired this week for Brett Kenny, I thought this was too important because it could happen to anyone. Injury and illness never discriminates.


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