Working as a football coach and referee in America, Mike McCall was living the dream.
But his life was turned upside down when he ended up in a coma and almost died.
They had told my parents that they didn’t think I was going to make it
Mike, from Cosham, was diagnosed with septicemia and rushed into hospital.
His parents were warned by medics that they didn’t think he was going to survive.
Mike made the decision to move from his home in Portland, Oregon, back to the UK as he had started feeling unwell.
He was concerned about the cost of healthcare in the USA, which doesn’t have its own National Health Service.
‘I became ill and I knew I was ill because I was very jaundiced so I came back home,’ he says.
‘I was in hospital for two weeks and was diagnosed with pancreatitis.
‘Afterwards I went to my doctors for a follow-up appointment and I collapsed right there and then. I was diagnosed with septicemia.
‘I was rushed to hospital in an ambulance and was in a coma for nine days.
‘They were going to pull the plug and then I suddenly woke up. They had told my parents that they didn’t think I was going to make it.’
Septicemia is a serious bloodstream infection. It’s also known as bacteremia, or blood poisoning.
It occurs when a bacterial infection elsewhere in the body, such as in the lungs or skin, enters the bloodstream.
It is dangerous because the bacteria and their toxins can be carried through the bloodstream to your entire body.
Mike, 51, had three blood transfusions, chest drains and a tracheoscopy. He was in hospital for three months before he was released and went back home to live with his parents nine years ago.
But recovering from septicemia is not an easy process. It had a huge impact on Mike’s life and he found himself in a very dark place.
He became diabetic and also started having problems with his heart that means he now takes beta blockers.
‘I was agoraphobic,’ he says
‘I couldn’t go out. I was frightened of doing anything. I had been so ill that it had scared me and I was depressed. I wanted to commit suicide.
‘Apparently that can happen because I was in a coma and because I had a brain injury.
‘I was so frustrated that I couldn’t do what I used to be able to do.’
Mike made contact with St James’ Hospital in Portsmouth, which cares for people with mental health issues.
He was put in touch with Talking Change, a Solent NHS Trust service which supports people with common mental health problems.
‘I did a six-week course with them which was very helpful,’ he says.
‘My doctor introduced me to an occupational therapist to try and help me to do the things that I used to be able to do.
‘They made suggestions on how to go about different things. That was helpful.’
Mike’s life is very different to how it was.
Today he struggles to walk and needs help in his day-to-day life.
‘I tried to go to the gym but it didn’t work,’ he explains.
‘I’m not very steady on my feet. I have to sit down after a short walk. It’s affected all the organs in my body.’
Eventually, Mike learned about Headway, a charity which supports people who have suffered all kinds of brain injuries. And he hasn’t looked back since.
‘Headway has changed my life,’ he adds.
‘It’s given me the confidence to be around people again. Here, you aren’t looked at strangely because you’ve got a brain injury.
‘It’s been about the confidence and meeting people. It makes you aware of what you have got and how to deal with it. People aren’t judging you.
‘My parents think a lot of Headway for the way that they have helped me get back on my feet.’
Now Mike is a service user mentor for Headway, which means he works with people who are new to the group and helps them feel welcome and understand what the charity is all about.
‘When a new person comes in, I will sit with that person and talk and make them feel welcome and help them join in with the group and see what they like doing.
‘I help give them the confidence that we are a friendly group and that you can be yourself.
‘I have come on leaps and bounds ever since I have been at Headway. They have looked after me and given me the confidence to become a mentor.’
Now, Mike gets out and about and gives himself something to do, volunteering for Headway three mornings a week.
He is also going to be volunteering for Pompey in the Community, looking after people with special needs.
‘It’s very important,’ he says.
‘It makes you feel really good. I am in a much better position than I was and I am confident that I can get better.’
HOW HEADWAY HELPS
Headway runs courses to build confidence, skills and employability.
Staff offer support and advice, run weekly groups with activities in various areas, and help to improve health and wellbeing.
The charity also lobbies for improved services locally for people with a brain injury.
Deborah Robinson, service manager at Headway, says: ‘We support people who have had a brain injury across Portsmouth and the whole of south east Hampshire.
‘A lot of people think of it from the trauma side. But it’s medical as well - a stroke is a brain injury as it’s a starvation of oxygen.
‘There is a lack of awareness of brain injuries and the types of brain injuries. We get some people who have physical effects, but we have got a lot of people with a permanent disability.
‘We give them the social interaction and the peer support to help people rebuild their core skills.
‘After a brain injury, a lot of people become quite isolated and through our group sessions that we run, they make new friends and they become more social.
‘The peer support between them is just amazing.’
Headway runs different courses for people, including confidence and cognitive therapy.
This year, the charity marked its 30th anniversary and has held celebrations throughout the year. To find out more about the charity and to make a donation, please visit headway.org.uk.