Real Life

Gin and tonic brought me back to life

By Andrew McNulty

Preparing to say their emotional goodbyes to their beloved father and husband, the Nelson family gathered around the bedside of David Currie, who had been in a coma for two weeks.

Not expected to live, David was read his last rites and his grieving family decided to share a last drink with him, by wetting his dry lips with a cotton bud soaked with gin and tonic.

But instead of passing away, David miraculously woke from his medically induced coma the next day and announced that he was hungry.

David (46) is considered a medical miracle after coming back from the dead when he suffered a heart attack and two strokes in 2009.

There had been no warning of his heart condition. The keen softball player had been for his regular hour-long run, then, at 11.30pm that night, Wendy was woken by strange sounds.

"I thought David was snoring really loudly," she says. "Then there were gurgling noises and he was thrown out of bed. I thought he was dreaming but when I tried to wake him he didn't respond," she explains.

"He was wedged face-down between the wall and the bed and I couldn't shift him. I knew something was wrong and dialled 111 but while I was on the phone, he stopped breathing. I felt helpless. I couldn't manoeuvre him to do CPR."

The ambulance arrived after 10 minutes and immediately paramedics tried to revive him. They worked on David for 30 minutes before his heart started again.

He was rushed to hospital but once again his heart stopped. Investigations showed a blood clot in David's left main artery was restricting blood and oxygen to the brain. Doctors managed to remove the blockage but his condition deteriorated when he began having violent seizures and developed a chest infection.

David's family were warned his prognosis wasn't good.

"We were told there was only a one percent chance he'd pull through and that even if he did he would be blind, deaf and brain dead," says Wendy (42).

Not wishing to subject David to life with so many disabilities, after nine days in hospital he was taken off life support and three days later moved to a hospice. Wendy broke the news to their three-year-old daughter oaia that Daddy wouldn't be coming home and David's two other daughters, Nicole (then 14) and Renée (then 12), were also prepared for the worst.

"He was breathing by himself but, without life-support systems, wasn't expected to last at the hospice more than four days," Wendy recalls. "His brother was on his way back from the UK for the funeral and notices were drawn up for the newspaper."

So it was a shock when on his third day Wendy received a call from a doctor to say David had woken up. "I couldn't believe it," Wendy says, "She told me he'd said he was hungry and that when she'd said her name was Kate he'd replied, 'Hello, Kate.' She'd asked if he was okay and he'd answered, 'I'm all right.'"

When Wendy arrived, David was asleep again with no signs of movement but that day was returned to hospital.

"The cardiologist said he'd sent many people to the hospice but never before taken anyone back!" says Wendy, who works as an office assistant.

"David's brother Mark joked it was the gin and tonic they'd shared with him the night before that'd done it." It was a drink that, thanks to Wendy, David had come to enjoy.

Within days, he'd regained some sight and had the family laughing as he made light of the situation, despite limited speech and movement. He'd joke about going for wheelchair races or "getting funky" moving his feet in bed, pretending to dance.

Six weeks were spent in the rehabilitation unit - relearning everything from eating and speaking to walking and cooking - before David was allowed to return home.

Two and a half years later he's relishing life and is back at work for asset development and management firm opus, where he'd been IT manager.

He's now planning to give something back to two organisations that came to mean so much to his family - the Heart Foundation and Nelson Hospice - by walking a sponsored half marathon in 2012.

"The brain damage has left me with restricted vision, terrible short-term memory and limited balance, so I carry a stick wherever I walk," explains David, who especially misses being able to drive. "But I treasure every minute and don't let the little things bother me any more.

"I can't recall anything about what happened, except waking up in the rehabilitation unit at hospital, hearing the voice of my brother who lives in England and wondering what he was doing in my bedroom - because of course the last thing I'd remembered before that was going to bed at home."

one good thing that came from the memory loss was that David forgot that, prior to almost dying, he'd been a smoker. The couple, who've been married for 10 years, are quite adamant that will never become a habit again but David is still able to enjoy other indulgences in moderation - especially the odd gin and tonic with Wendy!

To monitor David's progress, visit www.heartracer.org.nz/DavidCurrie

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