Friday, 25 November 2011

Counsel of hope

This week there have been two stories which have leaped to my attention. One, I have to confess, I first heard on the Breakfast Show on 5 Live (Well done, the BBC!). The other appeared in The Guardian and The Telegraph. What they had in common is that they are about men confounding the realists and the scaremongers.

The Bolton News
The first is the story of Gary Parkinson: Paralysed former professional footballer Gary Parkinson has been given a role scouting for his home town club — despite only being able to communicate with a system of blinks. Gary Parkinson once played for Middlesborough and was coach for Blackpool Youth Team. He had a brain-stem stroke which has left him with Locked-in Syndrome (like Tony Nicklinson whom Jane and I met in the early summer, you may remember, for BBC West's Inside Out programme). It doesn't sound as though he has the same fancy computer, but he communicates with his wife, Deborah, through blinking his eye. He once played with Tony Mowbray, Middlesborough's manager; and he's now sent the many DVDs of youngsters hoping to get a contract with the club, whom he rates by blinking: from once, no, to four times, sign him!

I was really impressed by the determination of his friends and family (and presumably himself) not to give up on him. At the end of the Bolton News article, I read:
"The 43-year-old was initially confined to his bed following a stroke in his brain stem.
But there have been improvements.
"He has been for day visits to his home, while there are hopes he will get his speech back after an operation on his vocal chords.
"Mr Mowbray, speaking in Middlesbrough’s match-day programme on Saturday, said: 'We were determined to give Gary a role, where he could feel involved. Not only that, I genuinely value his opinions about the game.'"
The second story was from Belgium and concerned Rom Houben who had been in a "coma" for 23 years. He had been a martial arts enthusiast and almost killed in a car crash in 1983. He was regularly diagnosed as being in a permanent vegetative state. "For 23 years Rom Houben was ­imprisoned in his own body. He saw his doctors and nurses as they visited him during their daily rounds; he listened to the conversations of his carers; he heard his mother deliver the news to him that his father had died. But he could do nothing. He was unable to communicate with his doctors or family. He could not move his head or weep, he could only listen" until a neurologist from the University of Liege took another look. "Using a state-of-the-art scanning system, Laureys found to his amazement that his brain was functioning almost normally." With intensive physio, he now has some movement and is able to communicate using a touch screen with one finger.
From The Guardian

"The moment it was discovered he was not in a vegetative state, said Houben, was like being born again. 'I'll never forget the day that they discovered me,' he said. 'It was my second birth'." 

One wonders if in the brave new world of euthanasia, which some organisations are pressing towards, Rom Houben would have survived to see his second birth - or whether his "quality of life" would have been written off as negligible, his care withdrawn and his death engineered. The preservation of life is a paramount principle in human and humane society. 

"Dum spiro, spero" - while I breath, I hope - the old saying goes. What a shame that so many now utter counsels of despair! "You're disabled: you'll not be much use." "You're old and going senile: you're just becoming a burden." "You have a terminal illness: you've got nothing to live for." That's all diabolical nonsense. Every life is great gift.  

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