Amelia’s mother Trina will never forget the moment she was told her daughter was on the brink of death. Dr. James Winearls, an Intensive Care Specialist, and Clinical Lead for the ECMO Service, delivered the harrowing news: her 19-year-old daughter only had a small chance of survival.
“I was numb. Totally numb. I did not expect it. They took us in a room and said she might not make it. It was our worst nightmare. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t even think. I just grabbed James’ arm and I said you save my daughter’s life!” said Trina.
Just weeks before, Amelia was a happy and healthy 19-year-old, until, like many Gold Coast locals this year, she became bedridden with Influenza A. Days passed, and Amelia’s symptoms intensified, along with Trina’s worries. With no improvement, Amelia presented to the Gold Coast University Hospital Emergency Department with the expectation she would simply be put on strong antibiotics and be home by morning.
Hours after Amelia’s arrival, every parent’s nightmare unfolded before Trina’s eyes. Amelia was rushed to the ICU and placed in a medically induced coma to give her body a chance to fight off one of the worst cases of influenza her medical team had ever seen. What happened next, left Amelia’s family shellshocked.
The doctors took us into a room and said she’s got an infection overnight and the only way we might have a chance of saving her is to put her on life support. We just couldn’t believe it, a healthy 19-year-old girl. Could not believe it. It was like someone had run over me,” said Trina.
Amelia now had a bacterial superinfection that was eating away at her lungs, and her only hope lay in the ECMO life support machine, an extraordinary life support device that temporarily assumes the role of the heart and lungs, allowing the patient’s organs to rest.
After two weeks, Amelia was now out of her coma, but not out of the woods. The doctors tried to take her off the ECMO machine, but her test results warned her lungs needed more time to recuperate.
“The doctors came out to me and I said don’t put me in that room again, please, I’m a wreck, a nervous wreck. Thankfully, the doctors said no she’s fine, she’s safe, but we feel she cannot come off the ECMO machine just yet,” said Trina.
When they delivered the news to Amelia, her hopes of being free from the large tubes and wires of the ECMO machine were shattered.
“She was so disappointed, because having these tubes hanging out of you, it’s very uncomfortable. I said to her, we can do this, love. A few more days, we can do it,” Trina recalls.
Amelia spent 23 days on the ECMO life support machine and finally came home after a total of 5 weeks in the ICU. As Amelia was leaving, her incredible team of ECMO specialists embraced each other, overcome with joy that she survived.
“It is always amazing to see a young person, so desperately sick, get better. For her to wake up and have such mental strength, and be getting up and walking around in intensive care on ECMO is a big deal. It’s a massive deal. I’m sure that her mental strength helped her physical recovery,’ said Dr Winearls.
Intensive Care Unit Waiting Room Funded by Gold Coast Hospital Foundation
This year, Gold Coast Hospital Foundation funded a major refurbishment of the Gold Coast University Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) waiting room, supporting more than 9,000 family members of critically ill or injured children and adults, just like Amelia’s family.
Each year, thousands of patients rely on the critical care of the ICU within the Gold Coast University Hospital. During this time, family and friends gather to visit and provide support. The experience can be emotional, exhausting and distressing for many of the patients’ loved ones.
Gold Coast Hospital Foundation saw a need to support local families and improve the waiting experience in the ICU by transforming the space into a tranquil and calming environment.
The project, which was made possible thanks to the support of generous donors, included the interior design and fit-out of the waiting area and three private family rooms, which include all new tables and chairs, family-sized lounges, leafy green wall wraps, modern cabinetry, and artwork.
Amelia’s family gathered here and made friendships with other families who were struggling through similar hardships. Trina recalls forming a bond with another family in the ICU, where a young father had suffered severe injuries from a car accident.
“Being there night and day, you get to know one another and make friendships with other families. The other day I got a text from another mum I met in the ICU, letting me know her son who had been in a car accident was able to go home,” said Trina.