Falcon Mifka a medical miracle

Paul Mifka. Pic: Ian Munro/WA News

That Paul Mifka is still here to feel the "spiders and cockroaches" he often mistakenly thinks are running up his legs, is a medical miracle.

Considered as good as dead by doctors and his family as he lay in a vegetative state after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome in 2001, Mifka's painstaking recovery to something approaching a normal life is testament to perseverance and courage.

But while he will today continue his health progression by attending West Perth's 20th anniversary of the club's 1994 move to Joondalup, the 48-year-old sounded a sombre warning to Hawthorn coach Alastair Clarkson, who last week stepped down from his role when it was revealed he, too, had the nasty nerve disorder.

He did not believe Clarkson would be able to coach again this year.

"It made me feel sick to the stomach," Mifka said of hearing the news on Clarkson.

"Everyone is different, but he'll have some residual things playing on him and you can lose all of your cognitive state where you can't write or do anything. It all depends on things like your body and your age … say if I'd smoked, I'd be dead now.

"Even if you diagnose it early, people still die and the next month will tell him how extreme it is. I'd just tell him not to listen to anyone unless it's a doctor or someone who has had it. He'll be able to coach again, but in the short term, no, because his nerves are damaged and will trigger off with the heightened anxiety of being a coach.

"Even the good people are sometimes six months before they can socialise again, let alone doing something as highly-tensioned as being a football coach. So many other things could fester when he's back to coaching, so it's best he stays away to get his mind and body right before he even thinks about it."

Like him, Mifka believed Clarkson's fitness and history of life structure as an AFL player and coach would be key allies in his health fight.

He said he still had to scratch his legs and hands thinking things were crawling on them, had uncontrollable face spasms and sometimes spent days not being able to get out of bed.

Mifka, who last played for West Perth when they won their 1999 flag, said he had initially been diagnosed by doctors with a "tweaked back" which would settle if he temporarily stopped exercising and doing weights. For three weeks, he tried to be the "tough boy", work his way out of his illness.

"Basically, then, I was carried into hospital," he said.

"I was in one of the bad categories and was 100 per cent vegetable where they even had to tape my eyelids shut to close them. My mind was totally functional, I knew everything and I could feel everything, but I just couldn't say anything or move. I try not to think about it now.

"Doctors were saying to my ex-wife that I would possibly die and over the next 2½ years I had to learn to walk and talk again. They told me I'd quickly get to an elderly person's stage and may never walk again, or I'd at least have a permanent limp."

Mifka, a police officer, said he was once able to do 1000 sit-ups at a time, but could not complete one when he embarked on his long recovery.

"I only had to do one stupid sit-up and it took me seven months to be able to master," he said. "I think I've been lucky to have had a football background because you stick to it and you're dedicated to it."

Mifka had strangely "amplified hearing", which had now degenerated back the other way. But by acutely focusing on each minute of his recovery and avoiding excess fatigue or stress, he gradually rebuilt his life through a strict diet and weaning himself off all his medication and is back enjoying more normal luxuries such as going to the footy.

Mifka recalled the deja vu that West Perth's controversial move from Leederville Oval to Joondalup provided after he had experienced similarly inadequate training facilities as part of West Coast's inaugural squad seven years earlier in 1987. Developments at the club's former home ground then led to a new intensity in Mifka's hate for his East Perth rivals.

"It's terrible knowing that scum, East Perth, are on Leederville Oval," he said.

"Honestly, I just hate them that much and even just thinking about them on that ground, I hate them even more. That 100-point win the other week (over the Royals in round four), that was one of the best moments I've ever had. I'm still buzzing now, I loved every moment of it."

Mifka said he was desperately sad that, because of his fatigue issues, he could not go to watch West Perth beat East Perth in last year's grand final.