At the age of seventeen, many people would be daunted by the prospect of brain surgery. For Colin Furphy, who had been living with epilepsy since the age of five, surgery was a “Gateway to a new life”. Colin as a teenager had begun goal setting and after the surgery he wanted to be able to enjoy a glass of brandy, have a girlfriend and drive a leyland mini. Colin’s determination and mind set is what has helped him greatly in achieving his goals and led him to climb one of the world’s highest mountains, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa.
Colin was first diagnosed with epilepsy at five years old by a specialist in Melbourne. Prior to this diagnosis doctors thought he was having migraines. At the time, his parents were not convinced and believed there was something else happening. After he started to experience tonic clonic seizures, his doctor diagnosed Colin with epilepsy. With this outcome, Colin was put onto medication and at one stage was taking up to thirty-two tablets a day.
Colin’s childhood did raise some challenges but overall he says he didn’t really notice a difference growing up with epilepsy until he was in his teens. The people around him were extremely supportive and the school he attended was very encouraging. Colin says “Thankfully I was known for being me at school and not known for having epilepsy.”
It was when Colin was an older teenager that epilepsy began to affect his lifestyle. It was at this time that the option of surgery was first discussed and Colin had his first surgery at seventeen. Colin and his parents spoke to a lot doctors about surgery but they were unsure of referring him onto surgery. It was a long process to get the tests and final approval from the doctors, however, Colin and his parents were persistent.
When Colin had finished recovering he had many experiences that he wanted to tick off his bucket list. He had a passion for hotel management and wanted to study it. He also had a strong desire to travel and explore. This was a massive goal. His aim between the ages of eighteen and thirty years of age was to live and work in every state in Australia. He travelled to Jindabyne in New South Wales and worked for a winter season, went to the Whitsundays and lived on South Molle Island for a summer, then moved to Norfolk Island in the South Pacific for a year. After Norfolk he then moved to Central Queensland where he worked in the mines for three years and bought a house. Colin found working in the mines could be lonely and challenging at times.
Unfortunately Colin’s seizures returned five years after surgery, while he was working in the mines. At the time, he had been working a long shift with minimal hours sleep. At about 2am one morning Colin had one of the biggest seizures he had ever experienced. He was at the time working on his own, but luckily a worker came back, as he had forgotten an item of his and he saw Colin. Immediately emergency services were called and he was air lifted to hospital. The seizure was so extreme that Colin had smashed a hole through the concrete wall, however, he didn’t suffer any head related injuries. It was the support from his fellow work colleagues that helped get him through this tough point in his life. The workers drove a two hour trip to the hospital, after their shift to keep him company and make sure he was okay.
He said “It was really touching and it helped with the recovery.” After six months the seizures were returning approximately sixty times a week. This was extremely challenging for Colin, as he was not able to work or drive and lived with the effects of epilepsy for another three years before having the second surgery.
Colin had his second surgery in 2009 at the age of twenty-five. He remained persistent about getting the second surgery despite doctors concerns. He says “I felt like this was my only option for getting better. Doctors took me through all the risks and told me there was only a 30% chance of coming out with less seizures.” However, Colin wanted to achieve so many more life goals so he proceeded with it. The surgery process was different to the first as Colin was under general anesthetic and then was placed under local anesthetic and had to talk during surgery.
The recovery period for the first and second surgery remained the same however, Colin says the “environment was different each time”. He had to move back in with his parents and although now he is extremely grateful for the help his parents provided, Colin at the time felt a loss of independence. Before and after surgery Colin was suffering from depression, however, expressed his feelings through drawings, while also keeping a record of how he was feeling each day.
Depression is often common after surgery, however it is important to seek help. Our team at Epilepsy Queensland can offer counselling during our office hours in person or via phone on (07) 3435 5000. Support is also available through Beyond Blue ph. 1300 22 4636 and Lifeline ph. 13 11 14.
After the recovery, Colin wanted to continue his passion for traveling and moved to Alice Springs and became a tour guide. Colin says “Moving to Alice Springs was the best decision I had ever made”.
While in Alice Springs Colin wanted to achieve more goals and set up a goal chart. His goals included, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, to be medication free, to travel the world making friends, and to lose forty-six kilos and stand as an independent in elections.
Colin wanted to challenge himself and do something extraordinary. At the time of his second surgery he told the doctors that he would climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The doctor “was quite amused and thought it was cute”.
People around him would tell him he couldn’t do it but this only made Colin more determined “I used this as reverse psychology and showed them otherwise”. After six months of training Colin was able to run ten kilometers a day. After a year with continual training, Colin lost the forty-six kilos and finally achieved his ultimate goal of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
There was media coverage of the climb, with Colin and his team raising thirty-two thousand dollars through community sponsorships for the Alice Springs Hospital. The money was going towards buying a new anesthetic machine for the children’s ward. Colin says the most challenging part of climbing the mountain is overcoming the mental barriers within yourself and having the confidence in yourself.
Colin’s experience with epilepsy is an inspiration as he rose to every challenge that was thrown at him, as well as having the amazing support from so many. He had set himself goals to achieve at his own pace. With each challenge he has conquered, he has learnt a lot along the way and wants to share his story with others that are also going through hard times associated with epilepsy. He say’s “Learn how to listen, focus on beating your own goals, learn how to learn and never give up.” Most importantly he explains that “it’s re-programming your lines of thought that will help you get through those tough times. If you can get through epilepsy, you can get through anything. The way you think about life is very important.”
Colin wrote his own story recently and wants to become a motivational speaker one day. Read his full story here.
For more information on surgery options for epilepsy visit www.epilepsyqueensland.com.au/surgery or call the Epilepsy Queensland Helpline on 1300 852 853. We can connect you to others who have been through surgery and are happy to share their experience.