Five years after he was knocked into a coma by a single punch, Tim Gaylard's family fear he finally succumbed to the life-changing event.
The 27-year-old keen fisherman, baker and "happy, cheeky bugger" drowned in a river near Deniliquin at the weekend after a suspected seizure caused by ongoing issues from the near-fatal assault.
Police commenced an extensive land and water search in the south-western NSW town after Tim was last seen swimming under the Echuca-Moama Bridge at 6.30pm on Saturday. His body was found downstream 16 hours later.
Tim's father Daryl said his only son was never the same person after he was punched outside a party in rural Victoria in 2009, leaving him in a coma for 17 days.
Ongoing seizures meant he was severely restricted in what he could do and needed constant supervision and support from his family.
The trip to Deniliquin to visit family friends for three days was the first time he had been away on holidays on his own and the first time he had indulged his favourite past-time of fishing since the brutal attack.
Tim uploaded two photos to Facebook of him fishing just hours before he disappeared in the Murray River.
"The assault changed his life totally," Daryl said. "He couldn't go back to his job, he lost his license because of the seizures, most of his friends left him because they were a bit frightened, he was restricted in almost everything he could do."
Recently, however, Daryl said his son had just been coming back "to having some sort of happy place".
After losing his license and his job as a bricklayer, he began working as a baker for a local sourdough bakery in Colac, Victoria and still tinkered with his much-loved car despite not being able to drive it.
"He was battling on," Daryl said. "He was dealt some pretty severe blows in his young life and he just got up and kept going and made the best he could out of it."
Tim was fishing near Moama Beach and swimming in waist-deep water with some young family friends when he disappeared under the surface without anyone noticing.
People just don't understand what sort of an impact it has on the family and friends and the person themselves because they're never the same person. You'd never wish it on your worst enemy
"When my mate walked past and the kids were walking out of the water, he asked 'where's Tim?' and they turned around and noticed he was gone," said Daryl. "It happened very, very quickly."
He believes Tim had a seizure and silently slipped under the water.
Friends paid tribute to Tim on Facebook, remembering him as a "happy, cheeky bugger" and "one hell of a good bloke".
"[You were] always up for a laugh, loved your family and your mates," posted a friend, Arron Graham.
Tim had survived leukaemia earlier in life and had become the face of an anti-alcohol violence campaign in Geelong after the 2009 assault.
His father said he had kept a close eye on legislative changes in NSW and was devastated when 18-year-old Daniel Christie died in January.
Daryl implored governments around Australia to implement tough sentences.
"That's the trouble with these one-punch things, it alters everybody's life." he said.
"People just don't understand what sort of an impact it has on the family and friends and the person themselves because they're never the same person. You'd never wish it on your worst enemy."