Long road to recovery from stroke for Joondalup man

Peter Coghlan. Picture: Martin Kennealey
Peter Coghlan. Picture: Martin Kennealey

SIX years ago Peter Coghlan awoke in a hospital bed unable to move or speak.

Now he has completed a Certificate III in allied health assistance and wants to help others after his experience made him greatly appreciate the role of allied health workers.

“They inspired me, they really did inspire me,” he said.

“These people are just gods, I realised how important they were.

“I’ll never forget how vulnerable I felt, it will always stay with me and I never want anybody else to feel that way.”

Mr Coghlan has made an amazing recovery from locked-in syndrome, even publishing a book about his journey in 2013.

At age 33, he suffered a brain stem stroke after hitting his head while helping a friend with a weekend project.

Despite losing vision briefly, he decided to see a doctor on Monday and it was not until later awaking from a nap he found something was wrong.

“One side of my face was all pins and needles and my right arm wasn’t working,” he said.

“I started talking and it wasn’t coming out right.”

His then wife and friends rushed him to Joondalup Health Campus, where he felt his body shutting down.

“My head was like a cannonball, it was so heavy, I couldn’t lift it,” he said.

“It was so frightening, it will never leave me.”

After being transported to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and put in an induced coma, Mr Coghlan awoke only able to hear.

He then regained his sight but could not properly control his eyes.

“I had to retrain my eyes for about four weeks to get my eyes to go around the room,” he said.

“The next thing was to try to control my saliva; I was just dribbling everywhere.”

He began communicating after a week, using a coloured letter board and blinking to spell out the word, but was at first limited to yes or no questions.

Mr Coghlan credited his mother for pushing him to say the words but it was all a slow process.

His first movement was in his big toe, which he could move 3mm, and he progressed to continually trying to move a pillow with his leg until one day shifting it a tiny amount.

“It was very, very slow,” he said.

“The pain of getting up every day and trying to move 1mm more, stand up one second longer, was just exhausting,” he said.

“Every day you were really consciously trying to do something; it was a nightmare.”

But Mr Coghlan was determined and did more than the amount of rehabilitation required once he was transferred to the rehabilitation hospital in Shenton Park.

His martial arts training, four years serving in the British Army and beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma when he was aged 21 meant he would not give up.

“From the second I woke up my adrenaline kept going for maybe two years,” he said.

“I’m a very, very focused person.”

Proudly, he walked out of the hospital after six months and one day, and continued his rehabilitation with tremendous dedication.

“It was in my hands, I knew what I had to do,” he said.

Now there is not much he cannot do and is trying to show others what can be achieved.

“I want people to know if they try and focus it will happen,” he said.

“I feel like I can make a difference in this world.”

Mr Coghlan described his work with a disability services provider as rewarding and is using his experience to help others in the same position he was.

Reflecting on what he went through, he said he now felt incredibly lucky.

“The whole thing looking back was a dream; I still can’t believe what happened to me,” he said.

“I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

“I’ve got everything I need. I’m a very content man.”

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