Reon Graham still forgets things once in a while, and admits he’s still in recovery mode. ‘‘The doctors said it would be like that for a few months,’’ said his wife Steph. During his interview with the Franklin County News, he asked for one question to be repeated, not bad for a man who lost his short-term memory for 12 days.
On April 26, the Patumahoe premier rugby coach collapsed during Thursday night training and suffered a cardiac arrest. The arrest would have left him with a wafer-thin chance of survival if it wasn’t for a handy defibrillator at the neighbouring fire station. ‘‘They say without a defibrillator you have less than a 5 per cent chance of surviving,’’ Reon said. Reon has Brett Muirson, a volunteer fireman, and manager of the Patumahoe premier reserves to thank for fetching the lifesaving equipment so quickly.
The cardiac arrest happened out of the blue and doctors still aren’t sure what caused it. A second blessing came with coach and policeman Danny Hodson being on the scene, who had just completed a police refresher course earlier that day and had re-learned emergency resuscitation procedures. His rugby squad and others gave Reon shocks at the scene, then an ambulance took him to Middlemore Hospital, where he was shocked twice again. It was 18 minutes before he was breathing properly.
‘‘I’ve definitely been given a second bite,’’ the coach said. Steph said her husband had no memory of the whole day. ‘‘He got up that morning and went to work and everything was normal, then he went to rugby training. ‘‘The boys said he was just jogging with them and they thought he’d just tripped over and fallen on the ground.’’ Reon spent a day and a half in coma, while doctors warned his wife and three daughters, Marisa, Bailee and Mia, he may never be the same. ‘‘They were concerned about brain damage. They said he’ll either wake up and ask what happened at training, or he’ll wake up and his memory will be a bit muddled, or he won’t wake up,’’ Steph said. She said when he did wake up on the Saturday, it was like a scene from the film 50 First Dates, as his short-term memory would only last about 10 minutes for the first 12 days of his recovery. ‘‘We ended up putting signs around the room telling him what happened,’’ she said. Reon’s memory gradually improved, though he lost 8kg in hospital and has been away from his job as a sales director at EMI Music for almost three months. Open-heart surgery in May gave him a mechanical heart valve and a defibrillator in his chest so if an arrest happens again, he’ll automatically get a shock.
The children, and Marisa’s fiancee Jonny Wilkinson, who lives with the Grahams have been strong throughout the
ordeal, Steph said. ‘‘He had tubes all over him and ice all around his head. For the girls to see their dad like that was pretty awful.’’ So it was a happy day when Franklin Silver Lining Trust called and offered the couple an evening at Castaways in Karioitahi Beach, though after memory loss and six weeks in hospital, Reon admitted his wife appreciated a break the most. ‘‘I had only been out of hospital about a week but I wanted to do it for Steph because she had been doing everything on her own. While I was laying in a hospital bed she had to make sure the family was still running.’’ The couple were given dinner at Agave, a night’s accommodation and a breakfast; all taken care of by the trust. They also have a massage to enjoy once Reon can lay on his stomach. ‘‘We’ve been to Franklin Silver Lining Trust fundraisers before. You go along and support it but you never think it will happen to you.’’ ‘‘You don’t ever think you’ll be a recipient,’’ added Steph.
The couple have been overwhelmed by support and said they’d love to name each person who helped save Reon on April 26, as well as those who have provided food, love and encouragement. ‘‘The support has been unreal – we want to thank everybody but we don’t want to miss anybody out.’’