“It’s hard to explain what it’s like being in a coma. A coma is a weird place, like a dream but all messed up. I remember being sat in a chair in a big open room with a needle stuck in my arm and being starved of oxygen, feeling very weak and hearing my heart beating very loudly. People were walking past and ignoring me; I felt like I was slipping away and I was so afraid.”
Fear did not come naturally to Peter Coghlan, brown belt karate, jiu-jitsu and kickboxing enthusiast. At just 33 years old, this former soldier had already faced dangers few of us could imagine; mob violence in Northern Ireland, two attempted bombings and a serious battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Yet, having just moved to Perth, Australia with his fiancee Jade, there was no time to dwell on the past as Peter enjoyed a pre-dinner drink on the patio with friends and family. The future on that hot, sunny evening seemed as bright as the weather until, suddenly, he felt tired and decided to lie down for a nap.
“About four hours later, I awoke feeling confused and agitated. I walked out to my patio where my friends and family were sitting around my bar. I remember feeling very strange and said, ‘I feel like I have had a stroke.’ The others noticed I was slurring my words and they asked me to walk in a straight line up and down the patio. Shortly after this I apparently began vomiting in the garden, but I don’t remember this, nor do I remember taking a shower to make me feel better.”
The journey to hospital was just a blur. The next thing Peter knew was being totally helpless, unable to move and very, very scared. After suffering a massive brain stem stroke, Peter was now imprisoned by his own body; totally paralysed by Locked-in Syndrome (LIS).
Sometimes known as “disease of the walled living” this neurological condition is difficult to diagnose as, owing to their lack of response to stimuli, patients are often assumed to be comatose or in a vegetative state. Main causes are stroke of the basilar artery, brain haemorrhage or injury, damage to the pons area of the brain, and diseases that destroy the myelin sheath which protects nerve cells. Effects are devastating. Unable to move, sufferers retain their cognitive and intellectual powers but can only communicate through vertical eye movements – the only voluntary muscles still functioning. Even this ability may go undetected for some time, usually being spotted by regular carers or close family and friends.
LIS is mercifully rare. Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment to date, the only help available being assistive technology to improve communication. Despite this – just six months and one day after his stroke – Peter Coghlan left Royal Perth Hospital in Shenton Park, Perth and walked back into the sunshine. (See You Tube Link below).
Peter is now well on his way to a full recovery, has been actively involved with charity events and has just tied the knot with Jade! He is also writing a book based on his experiences which he hopes will encourage other sufferers of LIS.