A Journey of Hope by Phil Thorn

My name is Phil Thorn and at the time of writing, I am 46 years old.
I am profoundly deaf and legally blind, plus confined to a wheelchair.
Seven years ago, it was very different.

Phil at TKA3.jpg

In 2008, I was living in Queenstown New Zealand with my family, managing a youth camp and conference centre. I was also enjoying all the stunning outdoor pursuits of this alpine town on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.

A fit, healthy and strong character with energy to burn, I was passionate about my family, my work and my faith.

September 26, 2008, my world fell in ashes around me. Suddenly struck down with Meningitis, I landed in Dunedin hospital’s ICU in a coma. For three weeks I lay connected to a life support machine. Doctors were preparing my family to say goodbye and switch off the support.

Thanks to the Master Creator, and the efforts of the medical fraternity, my life was gifted back to me.

But not as I knew it.

Through touching foam letters handed to me, I discovered the horrifying truth: I had entered a very dark and silent world. That silence was broken only by the screaming of Tinnitus in my head. I had also been left paralysed from the waist down and, at that stage, my left arm as well.


For the next nine months, my life was spent in hospitals and
rehabilitation centres.

Thanks to an amazing speech therapist at Dunedin’s ISIS Rehabilitation Centre I was introduced to the manual
alphabetical hand sign language. The Blind Foundation also
gave me the opportunity to learn Braille.

After being transferred to Lower Hutt hospital to be nearer to extended family, I was finally discharged, with the words
of the duty doctor that day, “Sorry Phil, there’s nothing more
we can do to help you.”


Laura Fergusson Community extended their hand to me following my discharge. I could live with my family in a modified home
and be part of a rehabilitation programme at the Naenae community each day.

As challenged as I was, I refused to let go of the dream that one
day I would return to my feet. I held onto hope that another dream, seeded before my illness, would come alive: entering the cycle challenge around Lake Taupo.


The second dream turned into reality November 2013 after countless hours of rehabilitation in Laura Fergusson’s gymnasium, and after many heartaches and tears. Supported by a crew, my riding buddy, Neil Davis, and I lined up on Lake Taupo’s esplanade at 5.30am
with our purpose-built recumbent tandem low rider, alongside around 350 other riders. We completed the 160 km challenge around the great lake just on 15 hours later, receiving great applause from supporters at the finish line.

While the fanfare was well over when we crossed the line, I enjoyed the deep satisfaction of a dream achieved.

2015 saw a support crew and me heading to the upper South Island with the Batmobile, the crew’s nickname for my bike. Our plan? To ride through New Zealand’s largest high country farm, the Molesworth Station, ending with a well-deserved soak in Hanmer Springs thermal pools. The ride was a fundraiser for Laura Fergusson Community, which many disabled young-at-heart like me call home and many
more receive respite care.

Since completing the Star Braille course, my world has blossomed with so much colour and life. Operating with adaptive Braille technology I can access the world through my iphone, check the news, use social media, read books, plus study online. And now I’m learning
to navigate my world using GPS.

Helen Keller, profoundly deaf and blind from childhood said:

“Security is mostly a superstition...It does not exist in nature nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure having given man domain over His works. Avoiding danger in the long run is no safer than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all. To keep our faces towards change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is true strength. Undefeatable.”

I still have times, days, when I long to see, hear, and walk. But I know each day is a gift for every one of us, whatever our circumstances. Each is a gift from God to open with gratitude.

So dear friend, walk its pathway with a heart of love, face each challenge with courage, be strengthened by hope, activate faith and live out your dreams.


“One should never creep when one is compelled to soar.”