Story transcripts

The Awakening

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reporter: Allison Langdon
Producers: Steve Burling, Hannah Boocock

It's conclusive proof that true love and devotion can produce miracles.

Sam Goddard was a vibrant young man cut down in his prime by brain injury.

Unable to walk and talk, he would have stayed that way if not for the dedication of his fiancée, Sally Neilsen, and the chance discovery of a remarkable medical breakthrough.

After searching online, Sally decided on a desperate experiment; to give Sam a common sleeping pill called Stilnox.

What happened next was beyond her wildest expectations.

While scientists attempt to fathom what Stilnox unlocks in the human brain, around the world this accidental wonder drug is offering new hope to families who, until now, have had none.

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Full transcript:

ALLISON LANGDON: On his 21st birthday, Sam Goddard had the world at his feet.

INSTRUCTOR: You alright?

SALLY: That was awesome, mate!

ALLISON LANGDON: Like most young Aussie blokes, he loved his sport and adventure. This is Sam today. Three years on, life couldn’t be more different for him and his fiancée, Sally Neilsen.

SALLY: I didn’t think it was possible. I thought that if it was that bad, that surely he would have died. It would have been too cruel for him to live and be in that state. I just didn’t want to believe that.

ALLISON LANGDON: It was a most unlikely tragedy, just months before Sam and Sally were to be married. During a soccer game on Valentines’ Day last year, Sam headed the ball, which apparently triggered a series of strokes. For the next 45 days, he lay in a coma. Doctors gave him just a 5% chance of survival.

SALLY: It was really hard because he was still in ICU when we cancelled the wedding and about two weeks after his strokes, I had to go and pick up my wedding dress and our wedding rings. So that was tough. I’m not going to lie – that was really hard.

ALLISON LANGDON: Did you ever think at any point to walk away?

SALLY: Never. That was never an option.

ALLISON LANGDON: And Sal remained by Sam’s side when he finally awoke with severe brain damage. But it was impossible to tell how much Sam could understand.

SALLY: He used to moan a lot and I sort of thought the moaning was distress. There was something wrong that he wanted me to let me know about. But I didn’t realise he was actually trying to communicate.

ALLISON LANGDON: Weeks became months but Sally and Sam’s family never gave up hope and searched the internet for a miracle.

SALLY: As a family we got really desperate. We just started searching miracle awakenings, miracle treatment, anything we could.

ALLISON LANGDON: Their search brought them to this man, Dr Wally Nel, a family GP based in Johannesburg who’s made an extraordinary breakthrough – the key to treating brain injury may lie with a common sleeping tablet called ‘Stilnox’.

DR WALLY NEL: It’s almost a revolution in brain injury – the injured brain cells are starting to work again.

ALLISON LANGDON: It’s giving them their life back?

DR WALLY NEL: Yeah, come back to life and that sparkle in the eyes. That to me makes the whole story, really.

ALLISON LANGDON: Stilnox has a checkered history – reports of people sleepwalking or hallucinating after taking it. Australian doctors advised Sal against experimenting with it, but she was determined to give it a go.

SALLY: And we just make sure the syringe is completely empty, that Sam has all the medicine. Within 15 minutes, you can see the medication having an effect. There’s a sparkle in Sam’s eyes that just moments before were glassy. And suddenly, Sam is introducing himself.

SAM: Hi everyone, I’m Sam Goddard.


SAM. Hi Ali, nice to meet you.

ALLISON LANGDON: What are you doing now that you can’t do when you’re not on Stilnox?

SAM: I’m talking, I’m talking, I’m talking!

ALLISON LANGDON: You’re yelling – even better! It’s pretty amazing, is it?

SAM: Feels great!

ALLISON LANGDON: So tell me, that first time he started talking whose smile was bigger – yours of his?

SAM: Probably mine! I was crying a lot.

ALLISON LANGDON: Who talks the most – you or Sal?

SAM: Sal.

ALLISON LANGDON: But Sal tells me you do.

SAM: When I’m on Stilnox, yes.

ALLISON LANGDON: And what do you like to say to Sal?

SAM: She is my queen – all hail Queen Sally.

ALLISON LANGDON: Why do you love her so much?

SAM: Because she is awesome, fucking awesome

ALLISON LANGDON: It’s as if a switch has been flicked. Sam says since he emerged from his coma, he’s been aware of everything. Stilnox reignites something in his brain that allows him to respond.

SALLY: Our connection is stronger than ever and he’s still cheeky, still laughs at all the same things and he still does things that make me laugh all the time.

ALLISON LANGDON: Who do you like better, Sal or Miranda Kerr?

SAM: Hmm…

ALLISON LANGDON: Remember who’s sitting beside you.

SAM: Sal, of course. Of course.

ALLISON LANGDON: Oh, he dodged a bullet there. Dr Wally Nel says Sam’s response is one of the best he’s seen since he stumbled upon the powers of Stilnox in 1999.

ALLISON LANGDON: So Sam’s reaction was quite extraordinary?

DR WALLY NEL: Oh, it was quite extraordinary. We were very thrilled with that.

ALLISON LANGDON: Dr Nel first saw those effects when he recommended Stilnox for Louis Viljoen, a brain-damaged patient who couldn’t sleep. He was astounded when instead of being sedated, Louis spoke.

DR WALLY NEL: I’d say 75% have a reaction, even if it’s a finger moving or an eye twitching. But the Louis miracle, that doesn’t happen very often. That happened to Sam, it happened to about 15 other patients around the world.

ALLISON LANGDON: In severe head trauma, it’s believed that sections of the brain shut down to preserve healthy cells. What Stilnox does is encourage dormant cells back to life. And this is after he took Stilnox?

DR WALLY NEL: After he took one tablet of 10 mg of Stilnox.

ALLISON LANGDON: So you must be so excited when you see that.

DR WALLY NEL: I get excited every time I see this because it’s there. People go, it’s there. You know what I’m trying to say.

ALLISON LANGDON: So you must think Stilnox is pretty good?

RENATE: Fantastic!

ALLISON LANGDON: Your eyes light up when you say that. Renate Oosthuizen is 29. She suffered severe brain damage after falling off a dam wall eight years ago. After the accident she couldn’t talk and became physically violent.

ALLISON LANGDON: So, before Stilnox you were very angry.

RENATE: Angry.


RENATE: Very bright personality.

ALLISON LANGDON: You’re a happy person now.

RENATE: A joyful person also.

ALLISON LANGDON: After three years on Stilnox, Renate is slowly relearning English and has even been given back her driver’s license. What’s the best thing about it?

RENATE: Freedom.

ALLISON LANGDON: Do brain-injured patients have anything to lose by giving this a go?

DR WALLY NEL: Absolutely nothing. Absolutely nothing.

ALLISON LANGDON: No wonder Australian families like the Tiernys are anxious to try it.

ALLISON LANGDON: Is it hard when you see her distressed?

JENNIFER: Oh, absolutely. You hate that because you don’t want her to suffer, you don’t want her to have pain.

NICOLE: At 28 years of age, Nicole Tierny suffered a massive stroke due to complications following a bowel operation. For the last two years, her parents Steve and Jennifer have devoted their lives to her care. Stilnox offers a glimmer of hope.

ALLISON LANGDON: What words do you want to hear?

JENNIFER: I love you....Pretty much. I don’t know, it’s hard to say.

ALLISON LANGDON: Just a few words, huh?

JENNIFER: Yeah, anything. Just anything you know, would be great.

ALLISON LANGDON: What do you want to hear, Steve?

STEVE: Just her voice…I miss her.

JENNIFER: Yeah we do, we miss her so very much.

FIONA: I love Nicole and I always will and she’s my priority, yeah. I’d do anything for her.

ALLISON LANGDON: Nicole’s identical twin, Fiona, has twin sons of her own but still finds the time to visit every day.

FIONA: I miss my old Nicole. I miss talking to her. But to have the Stilnox, if Nicole could just say to me, “BB” I could die a happy woman, because then I would know that she loves me and she’s here.

ALLISON LANGDON: After seeing Sam Goddard’s incredible success with Stilnox, Steve and Jen contacted Doctor Nel and last month, Nicole took Stilnox for the first time.

JENNIFER: There we go – first dose in…woohoo.

ALLISON LANGDON: At this early stage, the dosage is miniscule.

CARER: That’s excellent, really good girl.

ALLISON LANGDON: But Jen and Steve are already noticing small improvements.

STEVE: She engages with the eye contact a lot better than she did before. Just the little things like getting a smile – that was really a bonus because we haven’t had one of those since she was in hospital.

JENNIFER: And she’s relaxing her hands now.

ALLISON LANGDON: Nicole no longer clenches her fists and the constant moaning has stopped.

JENNIFER: That connection I’m getting with her has been beautiful – it’s been a special, special time. So when she held my hand when I asked her to, that was beautiful – she didn’t do that before. So those little moments I treasure.

STEVE: We’ve tried.

JENNIFER: We’d have given her every chance to come back to us.

ALLISON LANGDON: What if it doesn’t work?

STEVE: Then we’ve tried everything.

JENNIFER: We’ve tried. You know, that’s the best thing we can do for our beautiful daughter. We’ve given her every chance to come back to us.

ALLISON LANGDON: For Sal and Sam, a once-maligned sleeping tablet means their dream of a wedding, will one day come true. They’re living the miracle.

ALLISON LANGDON: Is a full recovery possible?

SALLY: I think so. I think give him three to five years or even more, I think he’ll get there. Anything’s possible.

DR WALLY NEL: Sam is changing the whole concept of brain injury and Stilnox in Australia. That’s one man doing it.

ALLISON LANGDON: Hey Sam, what’s Sal out of 10?

SAM: 10!

SALLY: What, just 10?

SAM: 10 is the best there is – the highest you can be.

SALLY: Alright – I’ll accept that.

ALLISON LANGDON: What about Miranda Kerr?

SAM: 11.

ALLISON LANGDON: Do you worry about the side effects from Stilnox?

SALLY: Not really. I try not to think about it. But I think even if there was, to have what we’ve had and the time that we’ve been given on Stilnox just overrides everything, definitely. And I think he’d say the same thing.

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