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A year ago Phil Tovey was at his lowest point ever – convinced he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair as he slowly lost the use of legs and his memory failed.
But today – during Men’s Health Week (June 13 –19) – the 75-year-old is being hailed as the ‘superstar’ patient of Mater Private Hospital Townsville’s day rehabilitation service after making an incredible recovery.
The former seaman is now totally ship-shape, goes to the gym and swimming pool daily and enjoys long walks listening to his favourite Pitbull, Shakira and Bruno Mars tracks.
“I’m fit as a fiddle mate,” Phil said.
“I feel like an 18-year-old in a 75-ear-old’s body. I’m the happiest guy in the world.”
The grandfather-of-five’s illness began seven years ago when he began to suffer soreness in his legs and experienced difficulty walking.
He and his wife Helen saw several doctors and physiotherapists, but none were able to identify his illness as his condition gradually worsened – eventually leaving Phil wheelchair-bound and in despair.
Last year Townsville neurologist Dr Ravindra Urkude diagnosed Phil with Normal Pressure Hyrdrocephalus, a debilitating condition caused by an abnormal build-up of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the brain.
In a procedure at Mater Private Hospital Townsville in July, neurosurgeon Dr Eric Guazzo inserted a ‘shunt’ (hollow tube) into Phil’s brain and body to allow CSF to drain from his brain into his abdomen, where it is safely absorbed.
The surgery was followed by four months of intensive rehabilitation led by Mater’s day rehabilitation co-ordinator Gabrielle Dockray and an expert multidisciplinary team of physiotherapists, occupational therapists, exercise physiologists and dieticians.
“In the space of a few months Phil has gone from being wheelchair-bound to walking kilometres, returning to driving and regaining his full independence, “ Gabrielle said.
“He’s a superstar – and so is his wife Helen. Having that strong family support is so important to our patients.
“Phil’s condition is quite rare; we see very few patients who had declined to the level he had, but his recovery has simply been phenomenal.
“He’s a lovely guy and an inspiration to the whole rehabilitation team.”
Dr Guazzo agreed that Phil’s progress has been ‘extraordinary’.
“Phil’s diagnosis is not that common, and we do see people who recover from it, but he is at the top end of the spectrum,” he said.
“Phil has benefited from the high-level rehabilitation we have at Mater.”
Phil underwent four months of intensive rehabilitation at the Mater and now requires only one
rehab session each week to keep his recovery on track.
“The Mater rehabilitation staff have been absolutely fantastic,” Phil said.
“I did weights, worked on my balance and spent a lot of time walking up and down stairs.
“They even had me making toasties! They used to tell me off a lot – it was like being at home – but
they were great.”
Phil has lost 12kgs since regaining his mobility and he and his wife are now planning a celebratory
holiday in Bali.
“I’ve been on an interesting journey. I had never been so depressed as I was when I needed to
have Helen push me around in a wheelchair and take me to the bathroom,” Phil said.
“But this journey has had a great ending. I’ve been given a second life and it’s incredible.”
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