GRATEFUL FAMILY: Anita Espley is happy to have husband Neil home after he spent 157 days in hospital with a brain injury.
GRATEFUL FAMILY: Anita Espley is happy to have husband Neil home after he spent 157 days in hospital with a brain injury. Jason Dougherty

Neil home for Eels triumph after ordeal

AFTER a 157-day journey across two hospitals and two states, Sunshine Coast rugby league stalwart Neil Espley is finally home.

The 48-year-old Warana resident was on his 13th annual pilgrimage to Sydney for the NRL grand final in October last year when his life was changed forever.

He fell down stairs in a Sydney restaurant and suffered a severe brain injury, resulting in an emergency craniotomy.

His road to recovery has been nothing short of spectacular.

Wife Anita said the timing of his discharge on Friday from the Princess Alexandra Hospital Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit was "ironic".

It was at the end of the 2014 NRL season when Neil had his accident; his first night at home marked the second game of the 2015 season.

For the man who is so passionate about rugby league, he was in his element watching his "home team", the Parramatta Eels, smash the Manly Sea Eagles 42-12 in his favourite armchair with beloved miniature maltese terrier Missy in his lap.

"It's funny how your planets align," Anita said.

"Most of the players have been reconditioning and training while my husband has had to completely re-wire his brain."

After being given an initial discharge date of February 12, Anita said they were devastated it had to be pushed back because Neil was not yet able to eat without the assistance of supplements through a feeding tube.

Once that tube was removed last Monday, the final tie to his hospital ward was overcome.

It was a relief for the Espley family, who were contemplating alternative care arrangements just six weeks ago after a short-term set-back in his recovery.

"We don't know whether it was his brain rewiring or if it was because it was a particularly hot weekend in January but he was absolutely not himself and we had to reassess our ability to cope with his care," Anita said.

"There are no young care facilities for people and we were being faced with this horrible, gut-wrenching decision.

"I don't know what it was, but I give thanks that things settled down.

"It was like someone switched a light on and we got this man back again."

With the help of his ever-positive family, Neil has gone from strength to strength since.

"We are one of the lucky ones to be able to bring him home," Anita said.

"He hasn't stopped crying as we all thought we would never see this day.

"Once we turned the corner away from the hospital, he threw his fist in the air, he was so excited."

The former Kawana Dolphins Rugby League vice-president spent yesterday relaxing at home after catching up with friends and family at a welcome home party and watching the Sunshine Coast Falcons and Norths Devils game at Sunshine Coast Stadium on Saturday.

Neil will continue a physiotherapy and speech program from home.

He uses a single-point walking stick and once his balance improves, he will be able to walk unassisted.

Anita said they would soon begin to work on his strength in the backyard pool and Neil's speech was improving every day as he conversed with visiting friends and family.

"Everyone heals better in their own home and he is getting stronger both physically and mentally," she said.

"He is fully aware of how hard it is for him and he is aware he has to try and continue to progress.

"His goal is to try and get back to work by the end of the year and we will support him.

"We will never give up."