Monday, 16 July 2012

How one man conquered Locked-In Syndrome

*UPDATE 7th May 2013: Pete's book is now available in paperback & for download (See links below): 

See also:

"It's hard to explain what it's like being in a coma. A coma is a weird place, like a dream but all messed up. I remember being sat in a chair in a big open room with a needle stuck in my arm and being starved of oxygen, feeling very weak and hearing my heart beating very loudly. People were walking past and ignoring me; I felt like I was slipping away and I was so afraid."
       Fear did not come naturally to Peter Coghlan, brown belt karate, jiu-jitsu and kickboxing enthusiast. At just 33 years old, this former soldier had already faced dangers few of us could imagine; mob violence in Northern Ireland, two attempted bombings and a serious battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
       Yet, having just moved to Perth, Australia with Jade, the love of his life, there was no time to dwell on the past as Peter enjoyed a pre-dinner drink on the patio with friends and family. The future on that hot, sunny evening seemed as bright as the weather until, suddenly, he felt tired and decided to lie down for a nap.
       "About four hours later, I awoke feeling confused and agitated. I walked out to my patio where my friends and family were sitting around my bar. I remember feeling very strange and said, 'I feel like I have had a stroke.' The others noticed I was slurring my words and they asked me to walk in a straight line up and down the patio. Shortly after this I apparently began vomiting in the garden, but I don’t remember this, nor do I remember taking a shower to make me feel better."
The journey to hospital was just a blur. The next thing Peter knew was being totally helpless, unable to move and very, very scared. After suffering a massive brain stem stroke, Peter was now imprisoned by his own body; totally paralysed by Locked-in Syndrome (LIS).
       Sometimes known as "disease of the walled living" this neurological condition is difficult to diagnose as, owing to their lack of response to stimuli, patients are often assumed to be comatose or in a vegetative state. Main causes are stroke of the basilar artery, brain haemorrhage or injury, damage to the pons area of the brain, and diseases that destroy the myelin sheath which protects nerve cells. Effects are devastating. Unable to move, sufferers retain their cognitive and intellectual powers but can only communicate through vertical eye movements - the only voluntary muscles still functioning. Even this ability may go undetected for some time, usually being spotted by regular carers or close family and friends.
       LIS is mercifully rare. Unfortunately, there is no cure or treatment to date, the only help available being assistive technology to improve communication. Despite this - just six months and one day after his stroke - Peter Coghlan left Royal Perth Hospital in Shenton Park, Perth and walked back into the sunshine. (See You Tube Link below).
       Peter is now well on his way to a full recovery, has been actively involved with charity events and has just tied the knot with Jade! He is also writing a book based on his experiences which he hopes will encourage other sufferers of LIS.

Peter and Jade



Monday, 9 July 2012

Are we all potential geniuses?

      I ask because, after a brief study of one of life’s most mysterious and astounding organs, it seems there are no limits to the human brain. Sure, few people would claim to be academic, yet most can be extremely knowledgeable about things they care about. 
      Football fans, for example. Mention the World Cup and all of a sudden they’re a mine of information, able to recall who scored every goal and how, why, where and in what position they played for every year since man first kicked a studded boot against an oversized pig’s bladder. 
      Music buffs probably know the lyrics of every number of every album ever recorded in your favourite genre. And even the ‘blondest’ blonde could give a chemistry lesson when it comes to cosmetics. 
      So it’s not that we can’t learn – just that most of us are selective when it comes to subject matter. It must also be said that, thanks to the internet, we’re pretty lazy too. No longer do we need to trawl to the local library to research our interests, while actually opening a book may be far too tiresome.             Intelligence doesn’t really come into it. I’ve known people who can barely string two words together consistently get high marks in exams – simply because they’re able to absorb facts, figures and statistics like a sponge. At the other end of the scale, some geniuses have been distinctly underwhelming when it comes to academia.
      Winston Churchill is a case in point. Despite his lacklustre record at school, he went on to become Prime Minister, a brilliant wartime strategist, a prolific writer and historian, and a not bad painter into the bargain. 
      Einstein was another student who failed in every subject except maths and physics. He believed firmly that genuine creative thought was lost when it came to learning by rote. Preferring to keep his mind free for exploring the universe, he refused to clutter up his brain with memorised information but relied instead on reference books for whatever he wanted to know. 
      That being said, the human brain’s capacity is infinite. According to Carl Sagan, one brain can store information that “would fill some twenty million volumes,” adding: “The brain is a very big place in a very small space.” Even more astoundingly, the brain takes in 100 million bits of data simultaneously from our various senses every second. 
      Author and scientist Peter Russell agrees: “The more that is learned about the human brain, the more its capacities and potentials are found to go far beyond earlier speculations. Memory is not like a container that gradually fills up. It is more like a tree growing hooks onto which the memories are hung. Everything you remember is another set of hooks on which more new memories can be attached. So the capacity of memory keeps on growing. The more you know, the more you can know.” - The Brain Book. 
      No one has ever yet discovered all there is to know about the brain. Even after years of study and research by neuroscientists, it remains unchartered and unfathomable. We do know, however, that the brain is extremely hard-working and highly selective. Although millions of messages enter every second, the reticular formation - a network of nerves within the brainstem - screens out non-essential information, sending only the most important to the cerebral cortex and from there into our consciousness. The brain also scans itself. Each second, 8-10 waves sweep through the brain, creating moments of high sensitivity and allowing for stronger signals to be identified and dealt with. 
      The brain needs exercise. Like any muscle, the more we use it the stronger it becomes, while lack of use can result in weakening the brain, even causing it to fade away. That’s why reading, doing puzzles, conversation and studying of any kind can help us retain our thinking abilities well into old age. Scientists believe that the brains of people who stay mentally active have 40 percent more connections between nerve cells than people who don’t. 
      And, far from the previous view that brains are fixed by our genes at conception, researchers have since found they can change. Ronald Kotulak, the Pulitzer prize-winning author writes: “No one suspected that the brain was as changeable as science now knows it to be.....The brain is not a static organ; it is a constantly changing mass of cell connections that are deeply affected by experience.” – Inside the Brain
      It’s also nice to know that the human brain - “the most complex object in the universe” - is cleverer than computers. Dr Richard M Restak says: “The performance of even the most advanced of the neural-network computers has about one-thousandth the capacity of.....a housefly.”
      Good to know we're cleverer than that! 

Latest update!
       According to the Daily Mail (July 16th 2012), and following an international study, women are now thought to have higher Intelligence Quotas than men for the first time since tests began.
       James Flynn, a world-renowned authority on IQ testing says: "In the last 100 years the IQ scores of both men and women have risen but women's have risen faster. This is a consequence of modernity. The complexity of the modern world is making our brains adapt and raising our IQ."
       One possible reason why women are mentally outstripping men is the need for working wives and mothers to multitask. However, it could be that women have always been potentially more intelligent than men 'and are only now realising it.'