Medical miracle counts his lucky stars
Jason, originally from Hawkes Bay and now living in Auckland, is a freelance actor and presenter. It’s his dream job, something he has always wanted to do, having been on stage since the age of four. But Jason only realised his dream after being diagnosed with a debilitating brain disease and having drastic neurosurgery.
Let’s rewind to April 2009, when Jason was living in Wellington, managing three retail stores. He was just about to serve a customer when the vision on the right hand side of his right eye went strange. Five minutes later he had a debilitating pain in his head. As Jason puts it, ‘as a typical male – and a kiwi male at that – I didn’t go to the doctor straightaway’. This migraine-like pain lasted two days until Jason finally took himself to the doctor, who sent him straight to hospital.
‘I was 23 and I had no real notion of how bad things were. They took an MRI scan, and told me I had a significant bleed in the base of my brain. I still didn’t really grasp it. I thought I’d take a pill and be on my way. The neurologist came and told me I had an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) in the bottom left hand side of my brain and that I would need a craniotomy and surgery to remove it.’
During the surgery Jason needed a blood transfusion to keep him alive.
One of Jason’s best friends set up a Facebook page for him where people could get together and offer their support. It went viral, attracting 40,000 visitors almost overnight and getting picked up by the global media. People all over the world were going online, rooting for Jason. He says that the families of other people with health conditions were also going to the page to ask him for his advice and about his experiences. ‘It was very humbling’ Jason says.
Jason had regular scans and remained stable for a number of years until one day in 2014 when he began having seizures. He was working as an agent, when he had a massive t
onic-clonic seizure – one affecting the entire brain. Back in hospital and after more scans, a nurse came to give him the bad news. His AVM was back, twice as big as it had been the last time. He needed urgent treatment to save his life.
It’s at this point you wonder how Jason can be such an upbeat, optimistic person. ‘I knew I had to make a conscious choice to be positive. It’s up to you to make of your life what you want it to be. I’ve been through a hell of a lot, but I wouldn’t change it at all. It’s shaped the person I am today.’
Having a triangular section of his brain – 5cm by 3cm – removed was not without risk for Jason. He lost his right-side peripheral vision after the operation, but considers himself lucky. ‘Because of the section of the brain they were operating on, there was a real risk I could have had a stroke or paralysis.’
That second operation was a turning point for Jason. ‘It was after I had my second brain surgery that I realised I needed to stop and refocus my life. I was working as an agent for other actors at the time, when I really wanted to be an actor myself. I had to make it happen.’
To have two AVMs and to still be walking and talking, Jason says, is a medical miracle. He is only too aware of how close he came to losing everything. ‘I can’t stress enough what a pivotal moment the blood transfusion was in my first operation. Without it I would have died. I count my lucky stars to be here today.’
Some of his friends and family are regular blood donors, and he encourages others to give, making sure they understand how important it is to people like him. ‘New Zealand Blood Service is dedicated to providing products that save lives. I literally would not be here talking to you now if it weren’t for that life-saving blood transfusion.’