Getting back to business with John

From meeting Prime Ministers and Indigenous leaders, to producing Dancing with the Stars and the ARIAS, John had a successful and well-seasoned career as a television executive producer. His career took him beyond the norm of the Australian landscape. But it was on a trip to Ireland that things changed, and John suddenly felt ill. He immediately flew back to Sydney and was admitted to the Royal North Shore Hospital where he was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease, abbreviated HLH (hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis), triggered by a rare parasite.

A life-threatening condition, HLH causes cells to become overactive and creates inflammation within the body. This leads the immune system to potentially damage its own tissue and organs.

John recalls his time in ICU as a challenging period. “I was very weak and couldn’t use my hands to push a call button. I didn’t have a lot of movement.” Despite this, he credits the tremendous efforts of the doctors and nurses at Royal North Shore Hospital who has helped him get to a place of recovery.

After several months, he was soon transferred to Royal Rehab Private Hospital where he commenced inpatient rehabilitation. “My GP and the specialists were very keen on Royal Rehab from a reputational perspective. They felt that my condition required a fairly intense type of reconditioning and Royal Rehab Private had the expertise,” said John.

At Royal Rehab Private, John was immediately assessed by the multidisciplinary team to determine his mobility and capability, and collaboratively worked with him to set some goals. His priority was to get his life and physicality back on track. “The immediate goal was to have some control over my physicality, to be able to bathe and toilet on my own and to be able to stand and have movement… To be able to return to a semblance of a life before.”

His rehabilitation program consisted of physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, and a particular favourite, hydrotherapy. “I liked hydrotherapy for a number of reasons. It allows you to be confident in your movement. And yes of course, it’s nice to be warm and in a pool and consider yourself in a resort… but the reality is being in the pool with my balance and muscular issues standing, it’s a much safer place to move because you’re supported in every way and even if you fall, you’re not going to hit a hard floor, you’re in a softer surface,” he said.

In a matter of weeks, John has made immense progress. “When I first got here (to Royal Rehab) I was in full harness, (it took) a ‘sling and lift’ to get in and out of bed and be moved around in the gym.” Through one on one physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy, John was able to progress to standing – a remarkable achievement only three weeks into the program.

“The progress has been heavily assisted and programmed by the physio team… They were able to dial it up or dial it down and I was very impressed with that. They worked with me as an individual, the goals were mutually set and have all been attainable with the hard work.”

“I didn’t think I’d be standing so soon but to be able to do it, from that day forward, I completely entrusted my future to that team. It’s crazy and it’s also interesting to see how the body improves so quickly when you have the right support, the diet is right and the mind’s edge is right,” said John.

John credits Dr Anuka Parapuram, occupational therapist Christian Minnett, physiotherapist Natalie DiDonato, as well as all the nursing staff for his progress at Royal Rehab.

“In rehab, you get out what you put in. And with the support of the team you can identify things, you can self-correct. It’s always the people that make it. The best machines go ping but if you don’t have the people to drive it and make sure it all works, it’s very hard.”

John, now being able to stand and walk, is looking forward to life outside rehabilitation. He is looking forward to getting back to work in the entertainment industry, but also just simply being at home. “When you come so close to not being around, it makes you appreciate being around so just simple things like meeting friends, going down to the coast, or the beach, and really just embracing life.”

John wanted to give some advice for future patients. “Trust in the process, trust in the system and always ask questions if you’re unsure. If you’re moving to rehab, you’re ready for rehab and you get out what you put in.”