By Victoria Stone-Meadows
A Cranbourne man has attracted international attention from the media and medical professionals after he survived and recovered from a rare form of stroke called ‘locked-in syndrome’.
Wally Ballard was unaware he would be making news headlines when he went to bed about 9pm on Thursday 1 June.
“I went to bed about 9pm and about midnight, I felt a cold flash move all over my body,” Mr Ballard said.
“I was quite alert and could see but I couldn’t speak or move.”
What followed for 83-year-old Mr Ballard was a terrifying full night of being trapped inside his own body, unable to speak out or move at all except for his eyes.
“I was like that all night until my wife came in next morning,” he said.
“Just lay there awake then the wife came in and brought in a cup of tea just after 8am and I think she realised something wasn’t right when I didn’t drink the cuppa.”
Wife Sheila Ballard said she thought something was off because Mr Ballard had said to her the night before he wanted to get up early to run some errands.
“When I had shuffled around a bit but still there was no sound from Wally, I thought I had to make my way to his bedroom to check on him,” Mrs Ballard said.
“When I opened the door, he was grunting and I just thought he was snoring and thought he would wake up to a cuppa.
“When I got to his bed to put the cuppa down, I glanced along the side of his face and saw he was foaming at his mouth.”
Sheila quickly tried to call her daughters for help but unable to get through to them, so called for an ambulance.
“I was getting very frustrated and felt like throwing the phone,” she said.
“When I called for an ambulance they told me to go in and take pillows to Wally and lie him on the floor, but I have no strength to do that.”
Sheila was sitting on the lounge of the couple’s home when emergency services burst through the front door and rushed through to help Mr Ballard.
“I thought they had broken the front door,” Mrs Ballard said.
During this time, Mr Ballard was still trapped inside himself but could hear everything that was going on and despite the terrifying circumstances, he kept his mind clear.
“I could hear everything they said out through the front door,” he said.
“I wasn’t even thinking anything except wanting them to hurry up and do something about it; I just wanted something to happen.”
Before he could be removed from the house, Mr Ballard was placed in an induced coma to avoid any further damage to his nervous system.
He was unconscious for about 24 hours while doctors at the Monash Hospital were able to remove a blood clot from the base of his brain that was preventing messages getting to his brain stem.
Before the doctors operated on Mr Ballard, the family were advised he would not survive and they were to say goodbye as there had only been one other case of a full recovery from locked-in syndrome recorded at Monash Hospital.
“We were supposed to go in to turn off the life support and I couldn’t sleep Friday night and I was praying for a miracle,” Mrs Ballard said.
“Once he spoke to me on the phone from hospital I said ‘Thank God, I have finally got my miracle.”
However, Mr Ballard said he did not feel like a medical marvel and had only one thing on his mind when he woke up in hospital a full 24 hours after he was admitted.
“I just wanted to know where I was and that I was hungry,” he said.
Since he returned home from hospital on Friday, Mr Ballad has made an almost complete recovery from his ordeal and says he feels like his old self.
“I don’t understand what all the fuss is about; I’m my old self with no slurring of my voice or anything,” he said.
“The doctor did say I have a bigger chance I could have another stroke, but now I’ve had one I don’t feel like anyone special.”
Mr and Mrs Ballard’s daughter Sharon Salsbury had moved in with the couple for the time being and said she had a lot of people to be thankful to for keeping her father alive.
“Even to the man at the door at the hospital; everybody has been brilliant, the nurses, everyone,” Ms Salsbury said.
“You don’t realise how much work they put into the patients at the hospital.”
Mrs Ballard was particularly thankful to the doctor who changed his mind at the last minute and decided to operate on her husband.
“The doctor said he thought about what if it was his own grandfather lying there and what he would want done,” she said.
“Without them and the ambulance and the firemen, he wouldn’t be here now.”