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'We had atheists praying for him': Valerie Cox opens up about husband's life-threatening illness

The broadcaster’s husband was not expected to recover after picking up encephalitis.

RETIRED RTÉ REPORTER Valerie Cox opened up today about her husband’s fight against encephalitis – an illness that left him in medical care for 18 months until, against the odds, he was able to return home two weeks ago.

Cox, who worked in RTÉ for 21 years before her retirement in 2016, spoke to her former colleague Sean O’Rourke about her husband Brian’s condition.

The pair travelled to Greece in March 2016 to work as volunteers with refugees.

While there, Brian fell into a coma and was airlifted to Athens where he was in hospital for two months before being airlifted to Ireland.

“Nobody ever expected Brian to recover as he has done. When he was in the coma, they told me he might never wake,” Cox said today.

Speaking of the immediate aftermath of Brian falling ill, she said:

We had half the Muslims praying for him, all the refugees, we had atheists praying for him, we weren’t a bit fussy.

The couple have been married for 43 years.

What is encephalitis? 

Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, and can often develop with other illnesses, such as herpes. While the most common symptom is a cold sore, one in two million people who have the virus are affected in their brain. For this small number of people the virus causes patients to go into a coma, and 66% die immediately.

Cox said today that her husband is perfectly functional: reading and writing, speaking with perfect speech and moving around on a walker.

She was told last year that he would have to go to a nursing home, but said she never believed that would happen.

We’re a very strong very family and I knew that we’d work together.

Cox told the programme that, after Brian was flown home to Dublin, they had a care roster in the family, and said they got excited over the littlest of things, such as an eyebrow moving.

A friend of Brian’s, Fr Stephen Monaghan, was able to lip read and was able to work out that Brian was asking if he was dying. Valerie and her family told him that he had been, but now he wasn’t.

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