A BOXER who underwent lifesaving surgery after a bout in Burton has told how waking from a coma ‘felt like being born again’.
Newhall super-middleweight Jonjo Finnegan lifted the lid on his extraordinary recovery in his first interview since the town hall title fight with Ryan Clark.
“I feel as though God has given me another chance,” said Finnegan, a Catholic father of two.
“I’ve just got to make the most of it and be there for my family.”
‘Mum put her arm around me, but I just didn’t know who she was’
JONJO Finnegan was in the sixth round of a boxing match when he took a right hook which left him fighting for his life.
He beat the final bell thanks to the skill of surgeons, the care of rehabilitation specialists and the love and support of his family and friends.
Here, in an emotional interview with ADRIAN JENKINS, he talks for the first time about his astonishing battle for survival and explains what may lie in store in a future many thought he would never have.
“I WAS sweating profusely and wringing wet — and that’s when it happened.
“I got caught with a shot and just went over.”
Words trip quickly off the tongue of Jonjo Finnegan as he recalls the fateful night of Friday, July 27 2012.
The 32-year-old was in the sixth round of his International Masters’ super-middleweight title fight against Ryan Clark.
Hundreds of boxing fans, a majority backing the Newhall pro, were in fine voice under the bright lights of Burton Town Hall.
Finnegan, in good shape and the favourite, was on top against a tough opponent determined to make the most of his shot at glory.
“He had come to fight,” says Finnegan.
“He was giving me a good fight, but I was doing the basics right and out-boxing him.
“Everything was working well for me and I was quite pleased with how it was going. He definitely knew he was down.”
But Finnegan, a whirr of green shorts, red gloves and white boots, was the one on the ropes.
“Making 12st, in the end it killed me,” he says, choosing words which brush uncomfortably against the truth.
“It was too low. I was starving myself and dieting. I was dehydrated and malnourished.”
That the British Masters champion survived so long now seems, in hindsight, to be due to his mental rather than physical strength.
“I can remember going back to the corner in the fourth round and thinking ‘I don’t feel well’,” Finnegan says.
“I felt a bit dazed and tired. Errol (Johnson, his trainer) said ‘are you OK?’ and I said ‘to tell you the truth I feel a bit dodgy’.”
Two rounds later, he was flat on the canvas, floored by a right hook — and there was no chance he would beat the count.
As the lights dimmed not only on the fight but on his life, doctors worked frantically in the ring for 10 minutes to keep Finnegan alive, giving the fighter oxygen before he was taken to a waiting ambulance.
In what now appears a gesture of defiance, he raised an arm as he left to rapturous applause.
Vomiting and drifting in and out of consciousness, Finnegan was taken first to Burton’s Queen’s Hospital and then the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, where surgeons removed a piece of his skull during an operation which saved his life.
“My whole head was full of blood,” he says. “It squashed my brain. When they took the piece out my brain popped out of my head. They had to put everything back. It was terrible.”
Finnegan, who would have died had he arrived in Nottingham 45 minutes later, was put in a coma which lasted almost two-and-a-half weeks.
“People said I moved my hands when they talked to me, but I can’t remember anything like that at all,” he says.
“My next memory was coming out of the coma and being in a recovery ward. I felt really disorientated.
“Joanne, my partner, walked over and said ‘are you all right babe?’ and gave me a kiss. I thought ‘who the hell is that?’.
“My mum put her arm around me and gave me a cuddle and I said ‘I’m not being funny but who are you?’
“It was a horrible feeling. I felt I did not know anybody. It was the worst feeling in the world.
“I didn’t really know who I was as a person or what I had done with my life.”
Clark’s punch had thrown the jigsaw of Finnegan’s life into the air and scattered the pieces on the floor.
Though he still had the jigsaw, the father-of-two had to link the pieces again to rebuild his life.
But rebuild it he did, with help from doctors and Joanne, 28, mother Gill, 58, brother Frank, 28, sisters Helen, 23, and Sylvia, 30, and father John, 60, not to mention Finnegan’s daughters, Courtney, seven, and Keeley, four.
Weeks of medical care in Nottingham was followed by physiotherapy and occupational therapy at Burton’s Queen’s Hospital and rehabilitation at King’s Lodge, in Derby.
Finnegan had to return to his childhood to rediscover his adulthood.
“I came out of the coma and woke up and it was literally like being born again,” he says.
“Everything was gone. I had to learn everything again. It was a scary time.”
Walking, writing, using a knife and fork, Finnegan had to re-learn them all — a difficult task for a patient who, initially at least, failed to appreciate how ill he was.
He now has no peripheral vision in his left eye, battles with poor short-term memory, suffers dizzy spells and has difficulty with his left foot and right thumb.
But Finnegan’s health is improving and he hopes to make a full recovery in the next two years.
Whatever the future holds, he will never return to the ring — at least not as a fighter.
“The hardest thing for me to come to terms with is the fact I will never be able to box again,” he says.
“I had done it since I was nine years old. It was my life. It taught me a lot of manners and made me a good person.
“The night I won my title was one of the best of my life.
“Even though this has happened to me, I still love boxing.
“I’ve had tearful nights about it. I feel as though I’d been married for 23 years and just got divorced.
“The fact I can’t do it has broken my heart, but I have to accept it.” Finnegan also accepts that Clark bears no blame.
“I’ve been boxing long enough to know that when two lads get in the ring it’s the risk both take,” he says.
“I would hate it if he blamed himself. I wish him all the best.”
Finnegan’s ‘love’ of boxing is so profound he hopes to forge a career training amateur and then professional fighters, ideally in his own gym.
He has been offered the chance to cut his teeth as a trainer at Johnson’s gym in Wednesbury, near Wolverhampton.
Finnegan’s enthusiasm at the prospect is almost palpable; but first, his focus appears fixed on restoring his health and celebrating the fact he is alive.
“I never expected anything like this to happen to me,” he says. “The battle I have had has been the hardest of my life, but I feel as though I’ve won it.”
Finnegan says he probably now appreciates life more and, to underscore the point, explains how being back at home and putting his arm around his daughters feels ‘amazing’.
“I feel as though God has given me another chance,” says Finnegan, a Catholic.
“I’ve just got to make the most of it now and be there for my family.
“I feel as though they’ve got me back and I’ve found myself again — that it happened so I could be there for them all.”