it IS not yet the miracle they all would have hoped for, but the family of a Limerickman were keeping their fingers crossed this week after he made his first tentative steps to walk again.
Brian Hogan, 35, from Ballykeeffe, has been waiting months to see if there was any improvement in his condition after receiving stem cell infusions in China this summer, in the hope that he might be able to see and walk again.
While the family were told by doctors in Beijing that it could take six to eight months for the controversial treatment to work, they are already beginning to see some small signs of improvement.
Now four months on since the treatment, his sister Nevis was delighted after Brian was able to give her a hug with both arms recently. This week he was able to walk for the longest period since he was injured in an unprovoked attack in the UK three years ago.
On July 19, 2009, he suffered severe brain damage and was left blind and partially paralysed after the attack in Nottingham, where he was working as a senior quantity surveyor. After the punch was thrown, Brian hit his head off the pavement and fell unconscious. He regrets that when he woke up he told the ambulance personnel that he was fine and went home, unaware that his brain was bleeding internally.
“I am finding that I have a lot more mobility, and have a lot more sensation in the left side of the body,” said Brian.
He wouldn’t go as far to calling his progress “a breakthrough”, but he’s trying to “conquer” his challenges every day.
“It’s too early to say, but I definitely think the treatment is helping and I would recommend it. Every little step is an achievement for me, and I become more confident. Becoming independent is a huge thing to me. I lived on my own before for 10 years and I was the boss in work. But I’m gradually regaining parts of my independence. Rome wasn’t built in a day,” he said.
Brian, who lives in an acquired brain injury accommodation in Clarecastle, said his family’s support has helped him in his daily fight to reclaim his life.
“The support I have around me is just great. My family are like pieces of a wall, they all fit together and hold me up,” he said.
While his mobility has improved, regaining his sight is Brian’s greatest motivation.
“If I got my sight back everything else might fall into place.
“Being in the dark isn’t very nice, especially when you’re in the dark all day, but I try to keep myself busy. I get great comfort through music, and I love listening to audio books. Then again I always was a book-worm,” he said with a laugh.
He now gives motivational talks to pupils in secondary schools in Limerick about the dangers of alcohol, and especially the dangers of hitting someone. He says he warns pupils that “if you get a bang on your head, don’t assume you’re fine.”
In a touching video, Brian’s family posted the scenes of him walking this week on YouTube, to show his many supporters who donated funds to help fly him to China.
With his brother Jonathon by his side, he was helped out of his wheelchair and walked close to 20ft, the farthest he has walked in recent memory.
“Back straight, chin up,” his brother Jonathan instructs as he holds his hand.
“We are delighted. It’s the most he has ever walked, and we have never seen him get out of the wheelchair before with that little assistance, his sister Nevis told the Limerick Leader.
“His balance has definitely improved, and since the trip to China he has also started to look more like the ‘old Brian’ again,” she added.
In the treatment centre in Beijing, Brian said he met a paralysed Iraqi man who was shot in the neck, and a young Colombian girl, both of whom were also hoping that stem cell treatments could reverse their conditions.
“You see that you are not on your own and that there are other people out there who are having a tough time too. When there’s a little girl going through this, then you think, ‘Surely I as a grown man can get through this too,” he said.