Guest blog by Toby Mildon: Blighted by near death experience – but feel so much better for it!

Toby is one of my good mates. We met through the JTSMA charity I have mentioned numerous times, which is for our condition. He did a talk when I was 16 inspiring me that university was possible. During my tough move to London he assisted and encouraged me the whole time. He is an all round top guy. Now in his late twenties, he has always lead an active and fulfilling life.  But he almost didn’t live to fulfil many of his life’s ambitions as he was struck by critical illness and spent three months in a coma and on life support.  Here’s his personal story.

As Project Manager for the BBC I work on Future Media and Technology and Chair BBC Ability (disabled staff forum).  I am Assistant Producer for Champions Club Community and Personal Performance Coach having trained with the Coaching Academy.  I’ve enjoyed successful careers as Engagement Leader for Cerner in the worlds largest healthcare IT programme and Consultant at Accenture for global Communications and High Tech clients.  I also worked for British Airways as an Account Executive and LloydsTSB as young as 15.

I went to the University of Derby and achieved a 2:1 in a Marketing Management degree and got Distinction in an Advanced GNVQ in Business after school. I moved to London to pursue my career aspirations, own my own apartment in Fulham and have a team of live in Personal Care Assistants (PA) 24/7.

I’ve always strived to be a high achiever and leave a legacy.  March 2010 was no exception – focused on my BBC career, building my coaching portfolio, chairing a national disability charity (JTSMA), producing a pilot for a new business entertainment TV show and more.   Christmas 2009 was ‘planning time’, to decide what I wanted to achieve in 2010.  So I produced a Mind Map outlining my goals.  I lived by Stephen Covey’s principal of Begin with the End in Mind.

Whilst proceeding with vigour I developed a chest infection, which is common during winter.  However, after my second course of antibiotics I became dehydrated from vomiting and stupefied.  I went to A&E, had X-Rays and blood tests and the doctor admits me with a severe chest infection.  One morning I’m found having a seizure and fighting for air.  The doctors and nurses rushed to my bed and brought me around again.  My chest infection got worse and I was suffocating and couldn’t breathe.   I went into a coma and was put on life support to keep me alive – I lay in intensive care unconscious for two months.

I developed multiple organ failure – my kidneys, liver and stomach stopped working and I was on dialysis. An MRI scan revealed a bleed on my brain.  A nasal gastric (NG) tube fed me nutrients and I had a tracheotomy in my neck.  I had thirty tubes, bags and bottles connected to my body in all.

a hospital bed in a generic ward
Hospital bed

My Mum who had practically moved to London to be at my bedside went away a weekend break, however, soon after, the doctor summoned her, as they didn’t think I’d make it through the night. In spite of this, I stabilised and two months passed before I woke from my coma.  As I opened my eyes I was really confused.  I thought I was 100 years old, that the BBC had fired me and the physios were out to kill me.  At first I couldn’t talk.  I used my eyebrows to say Yes (raising them) or No (a frown).

I asked the doctor whether I almost died and he honestly replied “yes, you almost did and you’re lucky to be alive”.

My whole world had shattered.  Not a lot made sense.  I didn’t care that my hair was falling out from the medication. As I was just out of my coma one of my PAs handed in her notice and I was angry at her ‘bad timing’.  I began poaching the nurses and one of them introduced me to her niece who I interviewed in ICU and offered her the job. When I first sat in my wheelchair, my arms were so weak I just drove in circles.  My first time outside ICU was to the tropical fish tank with a tranche of nurses, tubes and equipment.  I stared mesmerised at the fish.  I realised at this moment that what I appreciated in life had shifted if fish spellbound me.

An OT visited daily to exercise my arms and hands to get them working again.  I couldn’t hold a pen or operate my iPhone.   To this day I still can’t feed myself or drive my adapted vehicle.  As soon as I had a Fluoroscopy to see whether I had the strength to swallow food my Speech Therapist and Dietician put me onto a puree diet.  The first food I eat in over two months was pureed salmon and broccoli and mashed potato.  I chuckled that the chef had shaped the pureed salmon into the shape of a fish. No matter how much physio and suctioning I had I just couldn’t clear my chest.  I was exhausted, depressed and desperate to go home.  When I eventually left hospital I recuperated in Somerset.

I wanted to get back to ‘normal’ rather too quickly and so I arranged a phased return to work.  I installed speech recognition software on my laptop and Access to Work funding for transport.  Returning to work gave me structure and some purpose again.  However, I struggled physically and emotionally.  But I stuck at it. Although I’m missing three months of 2010, this whole experience has had a profound impact on my life.  Inspired by coaching, I’m writing a seminar and book to help others learn from my insights.  Here’s a sample:


I faced the ultimate fear – Death!  Things I once feared feel less significant.  My mantra is “well, [this or that] isn’t as bad as being on life support!”  We’re born with just two fears: fear of falling and fear of loud noises.  Every other fear is something we’ve learnt.  Do these fears have a right to impede us?  We created them!

  • Brainstorm all your fears.  Write a list as long as you can.  Write some more.
  • Read through your fears aloud.  Listen intuitively to your body.  Do you become tense? Does your heart rate increase?  This is a good indicator of fear as discussed by Charles Darwin in his book The Expression of Emotion.
  • Score each fear 0-10.  Where 0 fears have little impact on you, to 10 where you’re taken a long way outside your comfort zone.
  • Categorise your fears into ‘comfort zones’.  For example, fears scored 6 or less you can cope reasonably well with. Scores 7-8 are uncomfortable.  Fears scored 9 or 10 panic you.  You decide your thresholds.
  • What do your high scoring fears tell you?  What patterns can you see?
  • Tackle your highest scoring fears first.   As Brian Tracy says begin by eating the ugliest frog first.
  • What’s the worst that can happen?  If this fear comes true, what could you do to make the situation better?  Are you really not in control of the situation?  How can you regain control?

Priorities – what’s important?

Before the coma I was a busy man!  Lying in hospital with no responsibilities I asked myself: “What is it that’s really important to me?”  I was spending time on some things that demanded more of me than I got in return.  What’s your return on investment in the things you do?

  • Write down everything you’re doing in your life – for yourself, work, spouse and family – everything.
  • Cross through everything you do because you feel you ‘should’ be doing it or someone might be disappointed if you didn’t do it.  How much have you crossed out?
  • Put a star next to the things you want to do and enjoy doing.  If you aren’t doing the things you crossed out, what would you do more of or start doing?

According to Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix we should spend our time working at the things that are Important but Not Urgent – the quadrant of quality and personal leadership.  But most of us spend our time working at things that are Important but Urgent in nature – the quadrant of necessity.

Important Urgent Not Urgent
I – Managei.e. Crisis, pressing problems, time bound deadlines II – Focusi.e. planning, prevention, exercise, relationship building
Quadrant of Necessity Quadrant of Quality & Personal Leadership
Not Important III – Avoidi.e. interruptions, some emails etc. IV – Avoidi.e. mindless TV, trivia/busywork, time wasters
Quadrant of Deception Quadrant of Waste

How can you avoid activities in Quadrants III and IV?  How can you do more of Quadrant II?  How can you reduce efforts in Quadrant I so you have more time for Quadrant II?

Family and Friends

I’m fortunate to have a loving family and great circle of friends.  Families are important:

  • They are our first school after entering the world – we learn of love and shared experiences;
  • Family shape our personality and life as an individual;
  • Family is somewhere where we’re accepted without demanding much;

Think of the relationships you hold dear.  How can you nurture these relationships?  What one small gesture could you do right now to let someone know that you care about them?  Actions speak louder than words.  Do you hold any grudges?  How helpful are these grudges?

Despite having a pretty horrific illness I’ve gained a lot of positive insights from my experience, which I’m glad to share with you.  Confucius once said “the gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials” and one should “Never, never, never give up” – Winston Churchill.

Learn more about my book and seminar by following me on Twitter befriending me on Facebook and bookmarking my website.