As told to Paul Little.

My older brother Nick had a massive stroke in July 2000, at the age of 27, that left him with locked-in syndrome.

We were both playing rugby in different parts of New Zealand. I had a banking job in Southland, and he was in Dunedin. He had a stroke during a game, then a series of strokes that culminated in a massive brain-stem stroke. We just thought he'd been knocked out and was concussed.

When we found out what had happened, I was driven to Dunedin hospital at a speed I'd better not tell you. When we got there, he was in a coma that lasted a couple of weeks. It was horrific. He was on life support and we thought he was going to die.


Sometimes we slept in a family room next to the Intensive Care Unit. We were on tenterhooks the whole time, not knowing if he was going to survive.

Nick says he can remember things from that time, like hearing conversations about the possibility of his life support being turned off.

We were told he would struggle to make it past six months, but he did. When he came out of the coma, all he could do was blink, but he was cognitive and could understand what we were saying. He started communicating with a spell board and blinking.

I was doing a graduate banking job at the time and remember thinking that our society has it wrong. I was probably earning more money than the people working to save my brother's life.

Nick was probably my favourite person in the world. He was popular and athletic and good-looking. He had everything going for him. He looked after me when I got into trouble — I'd start a fight and he'd finish it. When he fell over — our roles changed.

I moved to Dunedin to be near him. I decided my job was to make him happy and laugh and hang out with him. After two years, we got him out of hospital and eventually he and I moved in together: a quadriplegic and a beer-drinking larrikin.

He was pretty unhappy for first year or two, along the lines of "I can't live like this", which everyone could understand. We had some good moments and some pretty rough ones and sometimes he wasn't sure he wanted to keep going.

But one day he woke up and decided: "If it's going to be, it's up to me." He kicked into living the best life he could. He started going to the gym. Although he struggles to isolate his muscles, he can lift weights if they're strapped to his arms and hands. He's been Mr Wheelchair New Zealand a few times. He's married a beautiful English schoolteacher who he met online and she came out to New Zealand to be with him.

He reckons he's happier now than most able-bodied people and I believe him. He doesn't seem to have the daily stresses the rest of us do.

I probably got quite philosophical around it pretty quickly. Like him, I started appreciating the little things. I went through a period of never saying no to anything. If someone said: "Do you want to fly into Dusky Sound for four days?" I'd say yes. If someone asked me to go to the ballet, although I wasn't really into it, I said yes. Because I understood that life is finite.

Matt Chisholm hosts Survivor New Zealand. Season 2 airs on TVNZ 2, Sundays, 7.30pm.