A Wanneroo mother has hailed a Football West program which she says has given her son “a new lease of life”.

Stephen Rea, 42, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early 20s and requires full-time care.

He has been in and out of hospital over the past 17 years and during that time has stopped breathing, been on a ventilator and undergone a tracheotomy.

Even this year he was stuck down with pneumonia.

Yet during all of his troubles he had one ambition – to play football again.

And his dream was fulfilled in January this year when he joined the Football West Equal Footingball Division, supported by Healthway, which caters for players of all abilities.

Now Stephen had signed up to play in the outdoor season with Lynwood United – and his mother is thrilled with the impact it has had on her son.

“It’s absolutely amazing … it’s brilliant,” Lorraine Rea said.

“His one goal all these years was to play soccer again. He’d always been a brilliant goalkeeper when he was a child – he was the best goalkeeper in the South West when we lived in Bunbury. But I never thought it would happen.

“It’s given him a new lease of life. He went on his own last Sunday – I was amazed. And he’s making friends as well. You find with mental health that a lot of friends drop off.”

Lorraine also had words of praise for Southern Cross Care and the staff at Bentley Hospital, where he resides.

“Before he went to Bentley he’d had two years of hell. But finally we found someone who would listen to what Stephen and I had to say and it made a world of difference.

“Southern Cross mental health look after him 24 hours a day. They were the ones who found the soccer program.”

Football West Inclusive Development Officer Gordon Duus said Stephen’s progress was an example of what could be achieved with the Equal Footingball program, supported by Healthway.

“This is a real good news story,” he said.

“Footingball is an entry level into the sport. It is welcoming and players are in a fun and inclusive environment at community-friendly clubs.

“I have been involved with Stephen since he joined and I have seen him develop.

“The biggest thing I’d point out is his increased social inclusion – he is developing bonds and friendships around him.”

Story reproduced with kind permission of Football West and photos courtesy of FotoEnzo.

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