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My family and friends were told to say goodbye to me

An AFL rising star was bashed and placed on life support. And that’s just the beginning

Barnaby Howarth was enjoying playing Aussie Rules part-time for the Sydney Swans in 2005, as well as doing work experience at ABC News. But then one night, trying to protect a friend, he was brutally bashed. A few days later he had a severe stroke due to a torn artery incurred during the bashing.

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He ended up in a coma on life support. Barnaby’s family was told to say goodbye. His younger brother flew from Scotland to do so.

But miraculously, after the life support machine was turned off, Barnaby slowly improved.

Barnaby had to relearn even the most basic things – walking, brushing his teeth …

Barnaby couldn’t believe it. “No doctors have diagnosed this scientifically, but I think all the fitness I built up playing footy meant that when my life was in the balance, life or death, the fitness meant I fell on the life side,” Barnaby explains to Eternity.

But life wasn’t going to get easier, as the damage done by the stroke definitively put an end to his burgeoning AFL career (arguably, his greatest passion at the time). He had to relearn even the most basic things – walking, brushing his teeth – and then would still have some serious ongoing health issues.

Such difficulties can cause people to doubt God’s existence, even profess his non-existence. For Barnaby, whether there was any purpose or meaning to life only briefly crossed his mind, despite all the suffering and setbacks.

“My ‘faith journey’… I did briefly think about it [after coming out of the coma]. While I was thinking about it, it was taking away from the effort I had to put into rehab. So I never really looked too deeply into the ‘why mes?’ Because I knew that took focus away from what I needed to do to get back to being able to walk.”

After the stroke and rehab, Barnaby started a job at ABC News as a production assistant in the newsroom. He then felt he should share his experiences on staying positive despite setbacks in life, so he began giving speeches and running workshops on resilience at schools and different organisations.

“I was just blown away by the strength it gave Angela.” – Barnaby Howarth

Despite his ailments, he continued to search for the ‘girl of his dreams’ who he could marry and settle down with. In 2014, Barnaby met and fell in love with Angela, a Sydney girl whose parents emigrated from Egypt, bringing with them their Coptic Christian faith.

“When I met Angela, one her biggest regrets early on when we met is that she had strayed from the flock,” Barnaby recalls.

“She was a fairly devout Coptic Christian. But she hadn’t been to church for a while and felt like she wanted to get back into it and so I said ‘let’s go!’”

“We went to church down the road one Sunday and I met the priest there and started getting involved in the church. And I was just blown away by the strength it gave Angela.”

Barnaby became more involved with the church, going to Bible and fellowship classes with Angela. During this time he decided that he wanted to marry Angela, but there was a slight problem.

“When Angela and I were talking about getting married, we had to make a decision on whether we would get married in a Coptic church, a backyard or a non-specific church. I had learned enough by that stage about the power the presence of God could give you, so for me it was a no-brainer.”

Barnaby made the decision to get baptised, a pre-requisite for getting married in the Coptic Church. He then tied the knot with Angela but around the same time she received the news that she had cancer and that it was terminal.

“It was metastatic [cancer that has spread through the body]; it was really bad news. I don’t think either of us had any false hopes.”

But Barnaby and Angela decided to live their short time together to the full. He says it was a very joyful time.

“Angela and I never aimed for a fairytale; we just gave everything we had to what was on our plates at the time. Essentially we just focused on the game plan and let the result take care of itself.”

They were able to visit various parts of the world, where Barnaby gave his talk on resilience.

“I’m keen to get out and learn more about [Christian faith].” – Barnaby Howarth

Angela died in July 2016, but her final few months had a profound impact on Barnaby’s journey into Christian faith.

“I was baptised in the Coptic Church about three-and-a-half years ago so, if I look at my spiritual journey, I’m a three-and-a-half-year-old child.

“Dealing with my challenges came before my spiritual journey started. So they haven’t sort of melded together but I still can’t get over how important a role the church was for my wife and being exposed to that I’m really thankful for it.

“I played Aussie rules footy, I came from a fairly traditional family. I didn’t go out to seek what people found in the church; it sort of came to me when I met my wife.

“As a three-and-half-year-old child on a spiritual journey I’m keen to get out and learn more about it.”

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