Speaking up for others saved the life of Roger Napthine.
It started like this: In 2002 Roger and wife Cheryl decided to call for the fair treatment of people seeking asylum.
“We joined protests in central Geelong, attended meetings, and one day some friends suggested that we could do more by writing to a refugee in detention,” Roger says.
Roger and Cheryl started to correspond with a young Afghan man named Moosa, held at Baxter near Port Augusta.
“In 2004 we decided to take some time off and travel to visit Moosa at the detention centre. He was an intensely open, cheerful and optimistic person, and spent a lot of time learning English and trying to understand the Australian culture,” Roger remembers.
“His experience there was mixed – some of the guards were kind, others were violent.”
When Moosa was given the opportunity of being released from detention into the community, he asked to stay with Roger and Cheryl.
Friends and neighbours rallied around to welcome Moosa into the Geelong community; inviting him to play sports, offering driving lessons and help to find work.
One morning in October 2004, Roger was lying on his bed, thinking about what he would do that day as he was feeling a little unwell.
“Then the next thing I remember is that I found myself face down on the floor, incontinent of urine, and I couldn’t stand up. My nursing training meant that I knew it was a stroke,” Roger says.
Cheryl was at work, but fortunately Moosa was home and heard Roger’s call for help.
He quickly brought the phone so that Roger could call an ambulance.
“I know if Moosa hadn’t been home, I wouldn’t have lived until the evening,” Roger says.
“After the stroke, Moosa was very encouraging, and pushed me around in a wheelchair and visited regularly during months of rehabilitation at the Grace McKellar Centre.”
Although paralysed on one side, Roger was able to learn to walk again with the aid of a walking stick. With some modifications to his car he was able to drive again, and he returned to work, teaching first aid.
Roger also did his bit to raise awareness of strokes, speaking to a nursing conference and community groups.
“I told them that all strokes are different, with different impacts. Also that people can get better with effort and good luck, so don’t give up. And there are risk factors for stroke, such as being overweight, smoking, snoring and high blood sugar. Listen to your doctor and do what you can to avoid a stroke,” Roger says.
Roger has also spoken up to promote access to public places and transport for people with disabilities.
“I realised almost none of the disabled toilets in the Geelong were actually accessible for many people with disabilities. Often, they are too small to manoeuvre a wheelchair, or have heavy doors that open outwards or make it difficult,” he says.
From 2013 until this year Roger was a member of the Inclusion and Accessibility Committee for the City of Greater Geelong, advocating for proper design of facilities and transport to ensure everyone can use them.
Sadly, following a series of falls, Roger’s condition deteriorated and he now requires a wheelchair and he has needed to live in an aged care facility since 2017.
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that Roger and other residents were unable to leave or receive any visitors for months.
He keeps busy with books and movies, phoning and emailing friends and family, and taking pleasure in the little things, such as admiring the birds in the garden.
“And I’ll keep trying to advocate for changes to make things better,” Roger says.
Find out more about preventing strokes at the Stroke Foundation.
Find out more about the current treatment of asylum seekers in Australia.
Story and photo: Emma Homes