Over the last 18 months, loving Rotorua father Ricky Havercamp has lived with the guilt of accidentally running over his precious five-year-old daughter, Maaia, and nearly killing her.
The pain and hurt consuming Ricky (38) and his wife of 14 years, Leanne (40), nearly tore the family apart. But together they overcame the toughest period of their lives and refused to let the tragedy destroy them.
“Sometimes you have to go through trials, and I consider this period as the best and worst time of our lives,” says Leanne.
“It’s the best because I’m reminded our daughter survived and it’s given me a greater appreciation for my family.”
It was on Waitangi Day 2012 when Ricky was reversing their van during a family outing at a local lake. He didn’t see Maaia, then aged four, behind him and she ended up wedged between the exhaust pipe and the back tyre.
“I heard a bump and saw that everyone outside was in a panic. I realised something terrible had happened,” explains Ricky.
“I jumped out of the van and Maaia was right underneath where my door was. My heart just stopped.”
The chaotic scene also lefthis wife devastated. Strangely, Leanne says she had a premonition of Maaia being stuck underneath their van the day before. When she heard the screams, she knew exactly what had happened.
“I started thinking about the warning and asked myself why I didn’t adhere to it,” she says.
Rushing to the van to tend to her daughter, Leanne saw Maaia was in severe pain.
“I called out, telling her it was all right, that Mummy’s here.”
As soon as Maaia heard her mum’s voice, she began crawling towards her and finally managed to free herself. Leanne held her baby in her arms as they waited for the ambulance.
“There was a black tread mark from the tyre across her back, and she was bleeding. I tried to comfort her as much as I could and prayed that she was going to be okay,” Leanne says.
On the way to Rotorua Hospital, Maaia fought for her life – at one point needing to be resuscitated in the ambulance.
She sustained horrific injuries, including a broken ankle, third-degree burns covering her arms and legs, as well as internal bleeding.
“There was a lot of guilt and blame,” Leanne says, reliving the pain.
“I blame myself for not holding her hand and not making sure she was safe.”
The months of recovery and the painful dressing changes created tension between Leanne and Ricky, with the incident taking a huge toll on their marriage.
“I was at a dark and angry place. I had resentment bubbling over. I questioned my love for my husband and hated him for what he did.
“Although little Maaia was getting her wounds treated, it was her mother’s wounds which really needed to be addressed,” Leanne says, tears streaming down her face.
Ricky was suffering in silence and was devastated that his wife was pushing him away.
“I felt so helpless,” Ricky confesses. “I ran my daughter over and there was nothing I could do to make it better. Leanne didn’t understand that I was hurting inside.”
The heartache finally took its toll and Ricky decided to leave their marriage. His absence was a wake-up call for Leanne, who realised that she needed to forgive her husband.
The couple started to communicate with each other and address their feelings.
Ricky, a fitness fanatic, suggested they train together for the annual triathlon event, Iron Maori. He returned to their relationship because the quality time they were spending with each other healed their anguish.
“We needed to open up if our family was to survive,” Leanne admits.
“Training with my husband was the best thing. We worked as a team. It brought us closer.”
Leanne and Ricky learned to love and trust each other again, and although it was a painful ordeal, the experience made the family stronger.Maaia made a speedy recovery and taught her parents about love and forgiveness in the process.
“She’s resilient and flourishing at school. She’s never blamed her dad or had any resentment,” Leanne says with a smile.
Today, the family is using the changes in their lives to help others. They train participants in Iron Maori and are sharing their inspiring story this week on the Maori television show, Te Ara Wairua: A New Hope. They also want their story to be a lesson for other families to take care when using their vehicles at home and in public.
“Always keep children in the car when you are reversing and double check that it’s clear when backing out of driveways, even if it means getting out of the car,“ Leanne tells the Weekly.
As for Maaia, her parents say it’s a blessing that she is still with them.
“We’re lucky,” Ricky says. “She’s a bundle of joy.”
Every two weeks a child is hospitalised with serious injuries received from a vehicle on a private driveway in New Zealand. A further five children are killed annually, on average, in the same way. Most of the children injured in driveway incidents are toddlers, aged about two years old, and the driver is usually a close family member.**(Source: Safekids New Zealand)
Aroha Awarau Photos: Christa Elizabeth Photography • Make-up: Haley Hogan