|Amy Reid is a staff writer with the Now-Leader.|
As Michael Coss described re-training himself how to eat, how to brush his teeth, and how to brush his hair after a traumatic brain injury, I had flashbacks.
Flashbacks to sitting bedside for weeks at Surrey Memorial Hospital just a few years ago, watching my father go through the exact same thing.
Lifting a spoon but not being able to put it in his mouth. Holding a stick of deodorant but being seemingly unable to recall what to do with it. Picking up a comb with his one working arm and struggling to lift it to his thick head of hair.
Like Michael, my father had a brain injury that left him partially paralyzed and cognitively damaged.
Another parallel is that the two men even lived in Langley group homes run by the same organization, CONNECT, which specializes in residential environments for people living with brain injuries.
Michael still resides there.
While the impacts of their injuries are shockingly similar and both were unarguably life-altering tragedies, the stories of how they arrived there are very different.
My father suffered several strokes. He’s been in a wheelchair ever since, and struggles with the mental impairments he received as well.
As for Michael, he now walks with a cane after seven years of being bound to a wheelchair, he now walks with a cane.
Not only does he walk, but he’s done a one-kilometre Terry Fox Run, the Vancouver Sun Run and even the Sheraton Climb the Wall event which involves climbing more than 700 stairs. He’s raised thousands for the Terry Fox and Rich Hansen foundations and even formed his own charity, the Michael Coss Brain Injury Foundation.
His incredible achievements led to him receiving a Courage to Come Back Award in 2012.
But it’s been a long road since the 2006 crash that altered his life forever.
His wife and twin six-month-old babies were in the car during the crash. While they came out alive and well, Michael wasn’t so lucky.
He spent six months in a coma, and it wasn’t clear whether he would ever wake up.
The family decided to try hyperbaric oxygen therapy and it worked. Michael woke up but was left with significant deficits. He was unable to stand, unable to walk, and required a power wheelchair with a head rest to hold his head upright.
Michael could not return to his job in sales with Molson’s. He was also an athlete before the crash, and grew up playing many sports, including baseball and hockey.
Now 49, Michael says he has no memory of the accident.
It happened when he lost control of his vehicle when travelling to Kelowna for a golf event.
“I remember the day before my injury but in terms of the actual accident I remember zero of what my family went through,” he said. “I know I only saw pictures of the vehicle after the accident and holy cow.”
Their car was mangled in the crash.
His first memories are of a group home he moved into, where he was forced to teach himself how to do basic things.
“Learning how to eat again and things like that, how to become independent again, how to comb my hair, brush my teeth, all the things that we take for granted. How to use a toilet, how to have a shower, dress myself. Simple things,” he recalled.
Therapists put individuals into the harness who have paralysis or lower-extremity weakness and, using robotic legs, repeat the motion of walking over and over again.
“So someone who has had a stroke or has cerebral palsy or who has had a traumatic brain injury like Michael, it allows them to experience that in a much easier way than if it was a therapist trying to do it on the ground,” explained Michael’s therapist Pauline Martin.
Michael used the machine in Vancouver every week for two years and amazingly, is now able to walk again with a cane.
The Lokomat is a type of therapy that’s hard to come by.
His therapist, Martin, runs Neuromotion Physiotherapy + Rehabilitation clinics that have the only two Lokomat machines used outside of a research environment in the province, and after opening a clinic a year ago in Surrey, she wants to bring one to the growing city.
The existing ones, in Vancouver and Victoria, were donated by local families, and Martin decided to launch a fundraising campaign to hopefully have a third available in Surrey.
But it comes with a big price tag. Martin says the estimated costs for the basic Lokomat is US$300,000 but she hopes to raise US$450,000 for the model that can help children, as well as adults.
“There is an overwhelming need and demand, especially in the Fraser Valley,” Martin said of the technology.
The Lokomat can literally make the difference between someone remaining in a wheelchair for the rest of their life, or walking again, she added.
And while the machine may be credited with helping Michael learn to walk again, Martin says it’s also his drive.
His father, Bob, agreed.
|Michael at the Surrey Neuromotion clinic, which has been open for just over a year.|
“Michael is a true inspirational person. He inspires me everyday as a father. I go to the gym everyday, six days a week, and when I’m working out and I’ve done 10 laps and I’ve had enough I’ll say no. When I think of Michael, I’ll say I’ll do one more lap.”
But Michael says he’s not done yet, as his speech, balance and walking abilities continues to improve.
He has three goals this year.
First, to regain as much function and use of his left hand, which is not very mobile now.
“My second goal is to build my relationship with my children who were just six months old when I had my injury,” Michael said. “When I go to sleep at night, they give me hope, they give me drive, they give me purpose. That’s why I keep making process to this day.”
His third goal, he added, is “to give hope and inspiration to other people going through a similar situation.”
“My journey has been long,” he said. “It’s been step by step, and it’s been breath by breath as well. But I continue to make small progress to this day, even when I’m approaching 12 years post injury now.”
So on your worst day, take a page out of Michael’s book, who offers this advice: “Anything is possible when you believe, to never give up hope and to always have purpose and drive and focus.”
Michael has partnered with Neuromotion in its effort to find donors to fund a Surrey Lokomat.
I will be donating to this campaign to bring this life-changing piece of technology to Surrey. It – and Michael – give me hope that my father will one day walk again. For more details, visit projectlokomat.com.