Patrick Coughlin, ¿12, far left, Tim Peters, ¿12, far right, with friends at commencement in 2012

Lean on me

October 24, 2022


You wouldn’t expect a wedding invitation to set in motion a chain of events that transforms multiple lives. But that’s what happened when Tim Peters, ’12, RSVP’d to the groom, his friend Patrick Coughlin, ’12, in 2019.

Peters said he’d be there, despite everything. Until then, he’d been largely keeping the “everything” to himself. But the truth was that for three years, Peters had been having a rougher time than his friends realized.

The formerly vibrant and happy finance graduate had seen his life turned upside down by a bout of Lyme disease and the fallout from it. It ravaged his immune system and brought on fatigue, vertigo, cognitive issues, and more. On hot days, he sometimes collapsed. He often couldn’t eat and spent hours in bed. In 2018, he stopped working and went on disability.

But, as promised, he found a way to be at Coughlin’s wedding. It was the first time in a few years the two saw each other in person, and Coughlin was struck by the changes he saw in Peters.

I got a better idea of just how serious and life-changing his situation was.

“I remember checking in with him when he was first having issues, but it was one of those things — Lyme disease? I didn’t really know much about it,” Coughlin said. “I got a better idea of just how serious and life-changing his situation was.”

After the wedding, they kept in closer touch as Peters tried various treatments and then dealt with a serious case of COVID-19. In 2021, on the advice of doctors, Peters moved from Boston to Arizona. He was now without a local support network and more financially insecure than ever. After a few months, he emailed a dozen friends from Richmond, including Coughlin. “I don’t like asking for help,” he basically wrote, “but I’m in a tough spot.”

They responded, forming what is essentially a semiformal advisory group. At first, it was hard to know what exactly to do, but with time they offered emotional support for his isolation, an outsiders’ gut check to support his decision-making, and avenues for financial support, including a GoFundMe (see sidebar).

“This is a refreshing story of Spiders helping Spiders,” Coughlin said. “The feeling I hope Tim gets is that he’s not alone. If moments of doubt seep in, he has this network of friends that really love him and are there for him.”