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Nov, 2020

In a year like this, imagine a loved one in hospital for Christmas

For teenager Charlie Scotcher, pins and needles in his feet was the first sign of a life-threatening condition that saw him in intensive care unable to walk or talk within days.

Gold Coast Hospital Foundation was first alerted to Charlie’s case when his social worker asked for urgent help to place his parents and 13-year-old sister in emergency accommodation.

Charlie, who was 16 when he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, and turned 17 while in a coma, was told he would spend his November birthday and Christmas in hospital.

“No one ever expects something like that to happen. It could be your family, relatives, friends – but you never expect it.

“If it does happen, that’s when you realise that charities like Gold Coast Hospital Foundation are so important.” – Charlie Scotcher

Charlie recalls the first week of his diagnosis as a blur.

“I woke up on the Monday morning with pins and needles in my feet… and the next day I woke up with pins and needles in my hands as well,” Charlie said.

“Dad took me to the doctor who said he knew what it was straight away, and I needed to get to hospital.”

Charlie went home and packed enough clothes for a couple of nights. He would not return home for almost 100 nights.

By the time he got to Lismore Base Hospital, he could barely walk and once tests started a short time later Charlie could no longer stand by himself.

Charlie was taken by ambulance to Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH) at midnight and says he does not remember much of the following week.

Charlie’s parents, Steve and Joanne, followed that ambulance with no inkling of what was about to happen in the coming months.

“We didn’t know Charlie went straight to ICU, and when we walked into his room with all these lines hooked up to him, we were told were couldn’t stay with him, that we’d have to go home.

“We drove home to Lennox Head and got home about 3am and then drove back up at 9am the next morning.”

It was the second morning that doctors sat with them and explained Charlie’s condition. At first the nurses and doctors were very positive as he had received treatment straight away and it didn’t look like it would affect his body past his waist. Everyone thought he would be home within the week.

Then Charlie aspirated.

Struggling to swallow and breathe properly, it was clear the Guillain-Barre syndrome was now moving up his body, Charlie’s immune system was attacking his nerves.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare condition with no exact known cause and can come on slowly or, in Charlie’s case, very quickly.

An x-ray showed one of Charlie’s lungs had collapsed and he needed oxygen. It was when doctors advised he needed to be put on life support, everything sank in for Joanne.

“Steve and I had been tag-teaming staying day and night and driving home, but we realised we would now need to find somewhere to stay and started googling Gold Coast accommodation,” Joanne said.

“Kate, a social worker came to see us at about the same time and asked, ‘what can we do for you?’ Kate sorted out accommodation with the Foundation straight away and that night we were able to stay closer to Charlie.

“Using Gold Coast Hospital Foundation’s Emergency Accommodation Service took all the worry out of our heads. We could be at the hospital as long as we wanted, it was priceless.

“We couldn’t focus or think straight in those early days – we were so grateful to have a place to lay our heads at night close by when we couldn’t be right next to Charlie.”

Charlie said his medical care and the Foundation’s support made a huge difference to his recovery.

“The nurses in ICU, my doctors and physios all feel like my family now. They didn’t just look after me, they were there 24/7, when mum and dad couldn’t be there,” he said.

“The Foundation’s support helped my family stay close – it made such a difference to my time in hospital. If it wasn’t for the accommodation service, dad would have had to stay at home (in Lennox Head) a lot more as he was driving back and forth to keep his business going.”

Charlie’s time in Gold Coast University Hospital included 63 days in intensive care, many of those days spent in induced comas to help his body recover from needing ventilation and other medical procedures.

“Because his oxygen levels were so low, they had to put him in an induced coma a number of times. Sometimes it would be for five hours, sometimes 24 hours or longer. He looked so close to death, it was heartbreaking, but I never entertained the idea he wouldn’t make it,” Joanne said.

But after what seemed like a never-ending cycle of day-in-day-out visiting hospital and returning to their Foundation-funded accommodation, Charlie turned a corner. In what Joanne describes as nothing short of a miracle, Charlie showed a little bit of movement in his shoulders.

Day by day with physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy he started getting more movement and his lungs started to improve.

He was able to transfer from ICU to the Children’s Ward and then on to rehab at GCUH. Throughout every day of his stay in hospital, his family were there by his side thanks to Gold Coast Hospital Foundation.

Joanne said although they spent so little time actually at the accommodation, arriving in the dark and leaving to see Charlie as early as they could so close by was the difference in being able to support her teenage son in the fight of his life.

“I think Charlie started to see his old life in front of him and he went for it. He went from not being able to move his legs from horizontal because of nerve pain to six weeks of rehab that saw him walking out of hospital.”

Charlie undertook an exhausting rehab journey doing two to four hours of physiotherapy every day and then an hour of occupational therapy.

Charlie’s parents had been preparing for what could have been a fractured family Christmas but Charlie’s miraculous improvements meant their dreams of Christmas at home together came true.

Charlie has now finished high school and plans to study nursing at Griffith University. He dreams of working as an ICU nurse at GCUH.

“For the longest time people have asked me what I want to be and I’ve never had any real idea but seeing how much influence nurses have on people, nursing is now my number one priority,” Charlie said.

In a year like this, imagine a loved one in hospital for Christmas.
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