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Melbourne man's 'miracle' recovery from stroke, locked-in syndrome

First published by ABC on 8 June 2017

What is Locked-in syndrome?

  • It is a condition where the patient is aware but cannot move or communicate
  • Patient has nearly complete paralysis of all voluntary muscles in the body, except for eye movements
  • Patients often do not survive or are left with permanent disabilities

"It's a bloody miracle."

That is how Wally Ballard's wife describes his remarkable recovery from a very rare neurological condition called locked-in syndrome and a stroke last Wednesday.

His family thought they were going to hospital to turn off his life support but they ended up taking him home today.

Mr Ballard was in bed last Wednesday night when he felt what he called a "cold blast" that went around his body and left him paralysed.

He could see and breathe but he could not move.

"That was it. I was completely paralysed and I couldn't move my hands at all, couldn't move anything," he said at Monash Medical Centre at Clayton.

"But I was wide awake, I could hear, I could see pretty well, I just couldn't move.

"[There was] no pain, no nothing. I laid there until morning. I didn't know what was happening. I've never been in hospital."

'I was almost dead'

When Sheila Ballard found her husband foaming at the mouth she did not believe he would survive.

She called for help and by the next day the family was told to come to hospital to turn off his life support.

"I prayed all night for a miracle and in the morning the phone went and the nurse said 'your husband's on the line talking'," she said.

"I said I've got my miracle, it's happened."

Mr Ballard said he felt as "fit as a fiddle now" and was looking forward to getting back to playing lawn bowls.

"I was almost dead. They just took the clot away and brought me back. I must've been knocking on the door [of death]," he said.

Sheila, his wife of 63 years, added: "They wouldn't let him in. They said 'we've got too many bowlers in here, we don't need another one'."

Clot removal restored blood flow

Normally most patients do not survive having a blood clot and locked-in syndrome and Dr Henry Ma, Mr Ballard's neurologist at Monash Health, said there had only been one other case where all of the damage was reversed.

"It's kind of like [being] a man in a box," he said.

"He could not move or talk but [he] knew what was going on around him."

Doctors had all but given up hope that Mr Ballard would survive but Dr Ma and his team did a scan and saw that much of his brain cells were still functioning, so they quickly removed the clot using a stent.

"Once you've got the clot you block the blood flow and the brain stem dies," he said.

"We went in and pulled it straight out and as soon as it was out it restored the blood flow to the brain stem."