From crushing illness to independence

It was a regular weekday in August 2016 for 45-year-old Mark when he woke up feeling unwell. Within an hour, he had lost control of his limbs and collapsed. Rushed to Gosford Hospital, he was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis; a serious and potentially deadly infection of the membranes that outline the brain and spinal cord.

Mark’s condition was critical. After four days in the Intensive Care Unit, he was helicoptered to Royal North Shore in Sydney for emergency surgery. He had specialist surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain, and he spent several days in a coma.

When Mark woke up, the full extent of the effects of his illness became clearer. He was unable to hear or eat, had significant movement difficulties and couldn’t participate in most self-care tasks.

In January 2017, when Mark came to Royal Rehab, he was in a sling and still unable to hear. He started an intensive multidisciplinary rehabilitation program in the Brain Injury Unit (BIU), under the direction of physician Dr King. This program included speech therapy, physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, gym sessions, occupational therapy, input from the dietitian, nursing, social work and psychology. Mark had a huge task ahead of him to rebuild his strength, function, mobility and communication skills. He also had to deal mentally with the effects of his illness. With support from all of his individual therapists and a finely balanced combination of physical therapies, Mark began to make excellent progress. His recreational and occupational therapists regularly took him to play wheelchair tennis and go recumbent cycling, building up both his fitness and morale through enjoyable, everyday activities.

Mark was still unable to hear, however, so Dr King helped to facilitate Cochlear implants. The BIU speech therapists helped Mark learn how to use them and he was finally able to hear again.

“The Royal Rehab staff were so positive and encouraging during my rehabilitation. They gave me back my confidence.”

Mark spent his last few weeks at ‘New Haven’ in the BIU to relearn self-care tasks such as cooking, showering, shopping and washing, before his return home. After five months at Royal Rehab, Mark walked out the door with his dedicated family by his side and just a frame for support.


Today, Mark is self-sufficient and living independently. He continues his hydrotherapy exercises at his local pool and is back enjoying the things he loves most in life — fishing, cycling and catching up with mates.