Day 82. Peter Couche

In November 2012 on November 2, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Think of a member of your family who is aged over 55 years. Now think of another.

In the next 5 years, one of those 2 people will suffer a major cardiovascular event*. That event could be heart attack, aneurysm or stroke.

If it’s a stroke due to a blood clot, the only medical intervention that specialists can offer you is a ‘clot buster’. This will dissolve the coagulated blood – which is good.  The bad news is that irreversible damage to your brain tissues will have already taken place.  Doctors can do little else other than assess the extent of the damage and point you in the direction of appropriate therapy.

It’s a story Peter Couche knows very well. Peter suffered a brain-stem stroke at the age of 42 on 14th February 1992, leaving him in a permanent state of ‘Locked-In Syndrome’, where he has

“a perfectly good body, but not enough signals coming from the brain to drive that body”.

To use his own analogy, if he were a car it’s as though someone took a hammer to the carburettor but left the body in perfectly good shape. Peter cannot move, eat, walk, or talk, and is blind in one eye. The remainder of Peter’s mind is active and capable of normal adult performance. In an incredible tale of dedication and commitment, over the past 20 years Peter has committed his energies to writing a book – Lifelines (Wakefield Press 2007) – and establishing the Peter Couche Foundation, which supports research at the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Institute aimed at isolating adult stem cells for use as a therapy to repair brains damaged by stroke.

Last night the Peter Couche Foundation hosted a Wine Dinner to support research at the Robinson Institute into stem cells.  I was lucky enough to attend, and hear from Peter himself in a speech read by his brother Steven Couche – who incidentally tickled us with his impressive Bob Carr impersonation during one of the wine information aspects of the night.

It was also great to hear from neurologist Associate Professor Simon Koblar, who filled us in with the science behind the stem cell concept they are working with at the Robinson Institute.  Get your teeth into this one: the stem cells are derived from dental pulp – living tissues in the centre of your molars. Let’s hope these prove to offer new options for stroke patients in the future – you can donate to the Foundation here if you’re so inspired.

There was a dark moment in the evening. When challenged to match a tasting with a list of commercial wines currently on the market, none of the South Australians on our table identified it correctly. Instead, it fell to a New South Welshman. Oh, the shame.

[photo thanks to taigasylvan on flickr]

*based on statistics describing risk across populations


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