Tuesday 24 April 2018

'He had 15 different tubes going into him' - Former RTE reporter Valerie Cox reveals husband in a coma for months with rare illness

RTE's Valerie Cox.
RTE's Valerie Cox.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Retired RTE reporter Valerie Cox has revealed that the same virus that causes cold sores resulted in her husband getting a rare, near-fatal, illness on a remote Greek island last year.

Valerie and her husband Brian were working as volunteers in the refugee crisis last March when Brian was struck down with herpes viral encephalitis (HSE), which occurs when the virus enters the brain, and lapsed into a coma. 

Valerie Cox
Valerie Cox

Two people in a million have the virus hit their brain, Valerie explained. Most people get a cold sore.  And for these two people in a million, the virus causes patients to go into a coma, and 66pc pass away immediately, she said. 

"When he was in the coma, they told me he might never wake... I never believed that he was going to die, the consultants did," she told Today With Sean O'Rourke this morning.

For two months, Brian was in the care of doctors on the Greek island where the couple had been volunteering, and in Athens.

"He had to be intubated immediately, and there was very little in the way of medical services there... The priority was to get him to Athens which was a wonderful, hi-tech hospital."

"After two months there, he was still in a coma, but he was well enough to be transported back to Dublin to St Vincent's hospital."

"Day by day he gradually got a bit better. There were really bad days too when he got all of the hospital bugs, and you'd be going so far forward, and then suddenly everything would shatter. Brian couldn't talk anymore. There were horrific days."

Eventually, when Brian woke up in St Vincent's Hospital, he was completely paralysed.

"He couldn't move anything. The kids were wonderful. They stayed with him all the time, we had a roster in the family. One day Emily was with him and she said, 'oh my God' he moved his eyebrow... that's how excited we got about something tiny."

"He couldn't talk of course. He had 15 different tubes going into him." 

She added: "A friend of Brian's, Fr Stephen Monaghan was able to lip read and was able to work out that Brian was asking if he was dying, and we were able to say 'no, you were, but you're not anymore. You're getting better."

Valerie and the couple's five children were able to find a place for Brian to be rehabilitated in Leopardstown Park Hospital, and since then he's made massive progress. 

"I knew in my heart and soul that if Brian got that bootcamp in rehab, it would make a huge difference.

"He went in there for six weeks. When he came out of the coma he had been all twisted to one side... but in two weeks they had him walking straight.

"He's learning to walk still but he's able to career around on his walker. He's able to write, read and he's putting the finishing touches to a book he's written."

Two weeks ago, after defying the odds and making a remarkable recovery, Brian was allowed back into the family home.

"He has absolutely no memory of getting sick, the hospitals, and it's just as well because he was so ill and they were doing such horrible things to him... Being in ICU, it's not a nice place to be."

But she said: "I always believed he was going to make it."

Valerie spoke of how lucky her family have been, crediting great friends, staff and those they had worked with in Greece.

"We had half the Muslims praying for him, all the refugees, we had Atheists praying for him, we weren't a bit fussy," she joked.

"Last October, consultants told me that Brian had reached his peak. They were totally wrong," she said. 

Having been told that he was going to a nursing home last October, Valerie and her family were determined not to let that happen. 

"We're a very strong very family and I knew that we'd work together. I mean, if we'd listened to the consultants, where would Brian be now?

"I love him and we've been married for 43 years and I knew we'd get the resources no matter what.

"Against all the odds, he has survived, he has gotten better. He's been to rehab, and I got him home two weeks ago," the former RTE reporter said.

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