Cameron Arnell’s family were minutes away from switching off his life support machine – 18 months on they are helping him train for a triathlon.
The Scarborough-born fomer soldier developed a brain injury – so rare it affects one in five million people – which left doctors baffled.
He was in a coma and his family were at his bedside after being advised there was nothing else that could be done.
They had travelled from Sherburn, where the family home is, to be with Cameron, 44, who now lives in Jersey with his wife Nicky and two children Ralph, six, and Monty, three.
Then a consultant made a diagnosis and recommended treatment which put the former Filey School pupil on the road to recovery.
“Our flight was delayed and we were late getting to the hospital – in that time a specialist came up with a solution,” said his youngest sister Angela Arnell, who lives in Springfield Terrace, Sherburn.
“Cameron was in a coma and we didn’t know what to expect. It was an horrific time for all of us. If we had not made that journey the chances are Cameron would not be here now,” said Angela, who went to the hospital with their mother Margaret, sister Gillian, and two of Cameron’s children from a previous marriage.
“My wife and step-daughter were there. It was horrendous for them. To be told your husband is going to pass away in such a short period of time is the most scary thing for anyone to go through,” said Cameron.
His story echoes that of Olympic star James Cracknell. He suffered a brain injury when he was hit by a truck while cycling.
Within weeks of treatment Cameron was home – but for the former Army physical training instructor the road to recovery would be a long one. He still has a weakness in his left side, suffers from headaches and short term memory loss. He could not remember that his father Francis had passed away or his childhood Ganton home.
“I couldn’t walk or talk. I lost my job, I lost my dignity, I lost everything,” said Cameron who after coming out of the Army worked for a garden centre.
“I used to wake up in the middle of the night not having a clue where I was. I used to leave lights and taps on, leave back doors open, I was totally confused all the time.
“I’ve got kids and they don’t understand that daddy’s got a brain injury and you’ve got to be nice and quiet and gentle with him. They’re just being their normal selves but the strain on the family was really bad.
“You never think it is going to happen to you. But in a short period of time my life got turned upside down.
“You can’t see mental illness. It’s like cancer or Aids. You can look perfectly healthy and no-one knows you’re poorly.”
Relearning the basics like walking, talking, and riding a bike took six months – it was particularly tough for someone who had been so fit and had served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and the Gulf. Cameron hit rock bottom.
“For six months I sat in my shed and smoked,” he said.
Support of brain injury charity Headway helped change that. “Before this happened to me I was training for a triathlon. I always said I would never give up and I am determined to finish what I started.
“Look at me, I’ve gone from nearly dying to doing a triathlon in 18 months.
“Even if someone has got a brain injury, if you can find their strength it will boost their confidence, it can be sport, arts, crafts, gardening, anything.”
He has already done a 3k run, a swimaathon and a round Jersey, 48 miles, cycle ride and a 10k run.
During his visit to Sherburn, the training continues with Angela, who is studying for a sports coaching degree at York University, as his buddy.
The mum-of-three has injured her ankle so instead of running, she cycles behind him. Cameron has been cycling from Scarborough to Sherburn, running to Ganton where he was brought up, swimming at Scarborough’s indoor pool, where he has met a fellow triathlete, and plans to swim at Wykeham Lakes.
“Cameron is truly an inspiration to us all in his determination not to let his illness prevent him from achieving his goals,” said Angela.
The Jersey triathlon – 1,500-metre swim, 40k bike ride and 10k run – is on August 28 and Cameron is raising money for Headway Jersey.
“I’ll be able to work again so my goal is raising funds, like James Cracknell,” said Cameron.
He has a tattoo on his arm which reads: In November 2009 The Lord Held My Hand. “It reminds me of the day I nearly died,” he said.
To boost his funds log on to: www.justgiving.com/Cameron-Arnell