TWO years ago Peter Coghlan was told he would never move any part of his body again, except for his eyelids.
A massive brain-stem stroke in 2011 rendered him paralysed and a prisoner in his own body.
Amazingly, the 35-year-old is now walking, speaking and working full-time.
Mr Coghlan, who has been nominated for a Pride of Australia medal in the Courage category, said he simply refused to accept he would never get better.
“Walking out of there was something I intended to do from the beginning,” he said. “I just wouldn’t give up.”
The Pride of Australia awards are an initiative of News Corp Australia, publisher of The Sunday Times, to recognise unsung heroes. Nominations close on Tuesday.
A former British Army soldier, Mr Coghlan had earlier battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but beat the cancer after a year of intensive chemo and radiotherapy treatment.
He moved to Perth with his wife, Jade Coghlan D’Souza, in 2005.
But things again took a turn for the worse in March 2011 when Mr Coghlan had a stroke after hitting his head on a concrete kerb while helping a friend with a weekend plumbing job.
It wasn’t until two days later that he realised there was something terribly wrong. “I went for a sleep for about two hours and when I woke up my face was a bit numb, my speech was messed up and I didn’t feel right,” he said.
By the time Mr Coghlan arrived at hospital he was paralysed.
The stroke had left him with a condition called locked-in syndrome – a devastating disorder where sufferers retain brain function, but are paralysed except for their eyelids.
Doctors told him he would never walk or speak again and would require high-level care for the rest of his life.
Mrs Coghlan D’Souza said watching her husband slip into a coma was the most terrifying experience of her life.
“He started convulsing and just went limp in the wheelchair,” she said. “The last thing he said was ‘I’m so frightened’.”
Mr Coghlan was later moved from Royal Perth Hospital to Shenton Park for physiotherapy.
His only means of communication was an alphabet board.
His family would read out letters of the alphabet until Mr Coghlan blinked to indicate they had said the correct letter.
Mr Coghlan said he never gave up trying to move and six months after he arrived in Shenton Park, he walked out of hospital.
“Eventually one morning my fingers started moving a little bit. I thought ‘Bloody hell it’s working’, so I just kept going,” he said.
Mr Coghlan said it was the support of his wife and his mother, Anne Coghlan, that gave him the motivation to carry on.
He now works full-time in an aluminium factory and has started a cleaning business.
But his real passion is helping those still suffering with locked-in syndrome.
“I would like every person to have the chance of physio even if they can’t move,” he said. “At the moment they are only selecting a few, but if everyone got the chance there would be more survivors.”
He has documented his journey in online videos and a book called In the Blink of an Eye. He also emails encouragement to people with locked-in syndrome all over the world.
“Anyone ‘locked in’ can break out with the right physio, the right family support and motivation,” he said. “Don’t tell a patient they won’t recover.”