Jake Finn is under no illusions that he is lucky to be alive.
The 26-year-old diced with death and lived to tell the story – a story that now includes a strong warning about mixing prescription drugs and alcohol.
In May, the former Newcastle Knights junior and Central Newcastle prop forward was recovering from a knee injury when he ingested a cocktail of the common painkilling drug Endone and alcohol during a night out.
Finn, known as Fridge to his mates, was near death when found by a friend the next morning, and spent the ensuing six days in a coma facing an uncertain future.
His recovery since has been nothing short of miraculous, with doctors – who urged his family in the early days to consider turning off life support – amazed at how far he has come.
Speaking publicly for the first time since cheating death, Finn is keen to warn others about the dangers of Endone.
“It nearly cost me my life,” Finn said. “I’d tell people to read the recommended use of Endone and stick to what they say, and definitely no drinking.
“I’ve been around prescription drugs all my life really with playing football. I know it’s a big problem with footy players, on the NRL [National Rugby League] stage as well, with prescription drugs being used to keep people on the field.
“People really need to be careful.”
Having suffered various injuries over the years, Finn said it wasn’t the first time he had been prescribed Endone, or mixed it with alcohol.
Earlier in May, he had been given Endone by a specialist after dislocating his knee.
On May 18, he went out to celebrate a mate’s birthday.
“I wasn’t thinking. I went out for a mate’s birthday,” he said.
“I had taken four to six Endones throughout the day and just didn’t think.
“It was something I’d done before and I didn’t think of the consequences.
“I was in a fair bit of pain with my knee.
“It wasn’t the first time I’d had an injury and I’d had Endones before and a couple of drinks on it.
“We went out and then came back to a friend’s house at Bar Beach and kept drinking.”
When Finn’s friend tried to wake him the next morning, he was lying in a pool of vomit.
He was non-responsive and was rushed to the John Hunter Hospital in a critical condition.
In the ensuing days, Finn’s parents Graeme and Kim, his brother Ryan, girlfriend Ashleigh and wide circle of friends were told to prepare for the worst.
There were fears he wouldn’t make it through the first night and then initial scans revealed he had no brain activity.
“Normally that means I was meant to be a vegetable. They told my mum and dad to think about the life I’d be living and if they didn’t want me to live that life then to think about turning the life support off.
“That’s what Mum and Dad and my brother went through.”
Finn had developed compartment syndrome in his hands because he had been lying on his side for a number of hours after passing out.
Talking was difficult in the early days and Finn found it hard to hold a conversation.
He feared he may not walk again but began to regain the use of his legs after he was transferred to a rehabilitation unit three weeks after lapsing into the coma.
Now, just four months down the track, he has received the all-clear to work and drive again, and he hopes to start a dump-truck traineeship soon.
And while he will spend Sunday on the sidelines watching his Central Newcastle mates take on Macquarie in the preliminary final, a return to footy is not out of the question.
“Footy has been a big part of my life since I was five,” he said.
“It is definitely a goal of mine to go back and play. I’m running again and back at the gym – probably the only thing holding me back is my hand.”
Finn has limited use of his right hand and will have surgery in coming months. He hopes the removal of dead muscle will restore movement to his thumb enabling him to catch and pass a ball.
“It’s been tough sitting on the sideline. I go and watch the boys play and do feel a little left out.”
He has been overwhelmed though by the massive support he’s received from his family and friends who kept a vigil at his bedside, and from the wider community who supported a Go Fund Me page that raised more than $11,000 to go towards his medical costs.
“I can’t thank everyone enough with special mention to Lucas Miller who set up the page. I’ll probably never get back to 100 per cent again because of my hand but it’s good to be feeling good.”