'I thought I was going to die' - Irish surfer and father-to-be who broke neck in Australia
The family of a father-to-be from Northern Ireland who almost died in a surfing accident abroad has launched a fundraising campaign to help him and his partner keep a roof over their heads while he recovers and as they await the arrival of their first baby.
Billy McMenamin broke his neck after falling off his board at Burleigh Point on Australia's Gold Coast, one of the world's most renowned surfing destinations, last week.
The 39-year-old is originally from Galliagh in Londonderry but lives on the Gold Coast along with his Australian-born partner, Hayley.
He was released from hospital after seven days and will spend the next three months in a chest and neck brace as he heals.
"I was surfing out at Burleigh Point on Monday of last week," he told the Belfast Telegraph. "A friend of mine was over from Ireland. We met at 5.30am to go surfing. We were out on the waves for about an hour.
"It was totally standard, I was on a wave, in a barrel, then I lost control of the board. It slipped out and I was in a really shallow area.
"It has happened to me a million times before when I have fallen off and my back hits the bottom or I put my hands out to save myself.
"I was expecting the same thing this time, but it was like an explosion went off in my back and my neck. I passed out and when I came around I didn't know what happened."
Billy explained how the shock of the incident didn't hit him at first.
He added: "Another surfer helped me out of the water. He was trying to carry me, but I am too stubborn and I said I would be alright.
"I climbed up the rocks myself and sat down for a minute and stumbled back to my van where I lay down. I could hardly move.
"I rang my partner's father and he came to me and rang an ambulance.
"I was rushed to hospital where they discovered I had broken my neck. They said that my shoulders were strong enough and held all my ligaments together and I was very, very lucky to be alive."
Billy was in hospital for a week, lying flat on his back, unable to move, as doctors assessed his condition.
He was told he was fortunate to have survived such a blow, and incredibly lucky that he wasn't paralysed.
Billy said his first thoughts, when he came around, were for his partner, Hayley, and their unborn baby, due next month.
"As soon as I came to in the water, all I could think of was, is this it?" he added.
"I couldn't see and I couldn't hear. I thought I was going to die. I tried to move my hands and my feet and open my eyes.
"I told myself that I had to be strong for Hayley and the baby.
"I felt a lot of fear. I went through a lot of emotions when I got to the hospital. I was up and down and crying and scared.
"Doctors didn't tell me that everything would be okay. They said I might heal and I might not.
"I'm just trying to be positive. I am just happy to be alive. I could have died - everything above that is a bonus."
Billy and Hayley are due to welcome their first child on October 20.
A self-employed sign installer, Billy is the family's main breadwinner but he will be in a chest and neck brace for at least three months.
With a new baby on the way, family and friends have set up an online fundraising campaign to help the family keep a roof over their heads until Billy gets back on his feet.
"Hayley is due to give birth in just a few weeks, she's still working on," Billy added.
"The plan was, before the accident, that I would be able to support my family when Hayley left her work. That's all been thrown up in the air now.
"I can't even stand up for more than an hour per day, I'm in incredible pain, on really strong painkillers and I'm going to be in a brace for three months at least.
"We have bills to pay, we need to keep a roof over our heads.
"I never thought I would ever have to accept something like this, but my sister set up a fundraising page and we are just so grateful for everyone who has donated to us.
"It means so, so much. We live simply, whatever we have, we have. We are so thankful for the support from everyone, we are blown away to know that people care. I can't say thank you enough."
Billy says his recovery will not be easy: "It will be a long road to recovery. We're just taking it one day at a time. We are just so looking forward to the baby coming in the next few weeks."
To help Billy and Hayley, donate at: www.youcaring.com