The Courage to Come Back
Adapted from an article by Christie Judson.
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The Courage to Come Back
Michael Coss is a funny guy. His jokes come quick and, if you’re not paying attention, his charming wit might just go over your head. But what you won’t miss, however, is this Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) survivor’s uplifting spirit, dogged determination and the courage to come back against all odds.
It was May 18, 2006. Looking forward to the weekend getaway, the young family left their Coquitlam home at approximately 9 a.m. Coss, a former recreational pilot, avid sports competitor and doting new father, recalls the day as being “picture-perfect – not a gust of wind or drop of rain in sight.”
There were no signs the day was about to take an ugly turn.
About two-and-a-half hours into the scenic drive along the Coquihalla Highway – just outside the small town of Merritt in the Nicola Valley – it is believed that Coss, who has no recollection of the event, suddenly swerved to avoid an animal. At highway speed, the quick change in direction put the vehicle into an end to end roll, flipping several times before landing upside down on the side of the highway.
Although witnesses say the vehicle was nearly unrecognizable, miraculously, baby Danielle was uninjured and Ann suffered only a fractured wrist. The Cosses’ son, Nathan, sustained serious head injuries and was induced into a coma for 10 days. Thankfully, today, Nathan is a healthy and strong five-year-old, with no known lasting effects.
Michael Coss was not so lucky. Rated a severity of eight on the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS), he sustained a near-fatal, diffuse axonal brain injury. Carrying up to a 90 per cent chance that the patient will never regain consciousness, it is one of the most severe and devastating types of brain injuries a body can endure.
At the hospital, doctors told Coss’s devastated family that, if he survived, he would never eat on his own, walk or speak and would likely need to spend the remainder of his life in a long-term care home. Unable to accept the bleak prognosis, his family and friends went into research mode, learning everything they could about TBI. They mobilized a team of support and hope.
After months of no change in his condition, Bob and Suzie Coss began vigorously exploring Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) – a promising, but expensive treatment that currently receives minimal to no funding from Canada’s Medical Services Plan and private health-care insurers.
Undeterred, Coss’s family, friends and co-workers banded together to raise the $22,000 required to cover the cost of two months of treatment.
Accompanied by his mother, Coss was transported from Royal Columbian Hospital to the Richmond Hyperbaric Health Center via ambulance, five days a week. On Christmas Eve 2006, after six-and-a-half months in a coma – and just three HBOT treatments – Coss opened his eyes.
From that moment on, Coss – who was at the time only able to move the thumb on his right hand – began a gruelling recovery process, one he says he would not be able to undertake if it were not for the devoted support of his family and, most importantly, his daily inspiration: Nathan and Danielle, now five and in the first grade.
“They provide the inspiration for me to fight inch by inch, step by step, day by day,” said Coss, who, just three months after waking from his coma – with minimal speaking abilities, confined to a wheelchair and still connected to a feeding tube – spearheaded a cross-Canada fundraising effort for the Rick Hansen Wheels In Motion program.
His efforts, not surprising to those who know him, raised more than $25,000 – the largest amount ever amassed by a single supporter.
“When I look back, I think I was so grateful for getting my life back,” he said. “I wanted to do something to make a difference. I also wanted to have a purpose – something to drive me.”
“I like the new me,” he said. “I’ve met new people that I feel have made me a much better person. I am very thankful of my support network, including my family, my friends, co-workers, all of the support members... my residential care workers... and for programs such as Semiahmoo House Society’s Acquired Brain Injury program. Now it’s my turn to give back to others because of what others have done for me. They rallied around me when I needed help the most.”
Coss recently launched an inspiring book about his experience. Titled The Courage To Come Back, it is available through Chapters bookstores across Canada. Proceeds from the sale of the book go directly to his foundation.