In 1990, Bill Hawkins got in a head-on collision with another vehicle that left him completely paralyzed. Later Hawkins was diagnosed with locked-in syndrome, which is a condition where a person is totally aware of everything going on around them but unable to do anything. Normally, people with the condition have suffered severe brain injuries, strokes or have rare circulatory diseases.
Hawkins has been living from the condition for 25-years; however, his parents, Jim and Lindy Hawkins, and a team of 40 volunteers have been his dedicated caregivers. One volunteer said, “He just kept going. They did extensive tests with head injury specialists and found there was no medical reason he couldn’t see or hear people, so he was aware of what’s going on.”
She said, “He has pretty much no form of communication. Some people that have locked-in syndrome can communicate with the blink of an eyelid or moving their little finger but nothing with Bill. Sometimes he shows emotion and sometimes you might get some tears when we’re assuming things get a bit overwhelming for him. We have to assume because nothing traumatic is happening at that time, he might just be having a bad day. But sometimes you’ll see a little smile on his face and that’ll just light you up.”
Currently, Sharon coordinates the team of volunteers (above) that visits Bill on a daily basis. His volunteers are comprised of students, retirees, medical professionals, friends and family. Remarkably, Hawkins has survived a double lung collapse and severe other major illnesses while suffering with the condition. Sharon said, “Over the years he’s been through double lung collapses and major illnesses but he keeps fighting back. He’s had so many antibiotics over the years that they really aren’t that effective any more. I believe Bill has a really strong will to live.”
She concluded, “His parents are really his main carers still. His mum in particular is never far away. They’ve never been on holiday (since the accident), nothing, and if they do socialise it’s tough to do as a couple — one of them always likes to remain with Bill.”
Each day a night nurse on a 12-hour shift joins Bill’s mum in keeping an eye on him, turning him every two hours and maintaining the six-times-a-day mucus removal process that must be adhered to in order to keep his lungs going. Bill has suffered double lung collapses in the past.
Then community nurses arrive to perform his daily hygiene routine — shaving, brushing his teeth, showering him and occasionally cutting his hair — all in his parent’s specially adapted house.
Then it’s the turn of the volunteers, who Ms Hand describes as “special people with enormous hearts”. They do a lot of work exercising Bill to prevent his muscles from wasting.
He’ll also be visited by a host of specialists, from neurologists to physiotherapists, at various points throughout the week. The Australian Navy — Bill’s employer at the time of the accident — foots the medical bill.
Bill is fed through a tube in his stomach and is on an enormous list of medications that include anti-seizure drugs, muscle relaxants, anticonvulsants, wakefulness-promoting agents and lung medication. He also requires oxygen all through the night, as well as at times when he may be experiencing one of his regular seizures.