Just a few months ago, 19-year-old Amelia lay in the Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH) Intensive Care Unit (ICU) on the brink of death.
Her family was shellshocked by the fact that only weeks before she was healthy and living a vibrant life as a busy Griffith University student juggling a demanding double major in Law and Journalism while working full-time. Her doctors cautioned her family that Amelia may not reach her 20th birthday, let alone survive to celebrate Christmas.
Like many Gold Coast locals this year, Amelia had succumbed to influenza A, and after a week of no improvement, she reported to the GCUH emergency department as a last resort.
In the ensuing 12 hours of her arrival, Amelia’s world was turned upside down as she was rushed from the emergency department to the ICU, suffering from one of the most severe cases of influenza ever encountered by her medical team. In a bid to prevent her lungs from failing, they placed her in a medically induced coma.
Amelia’s sister Brianna, rests her eyes whilst keeping Amelia company in her medically induced coma.
After two weeks in her coma, her condition continued to deteriorate as Amelia’s body battled a relentless bacterial superinfection that was eating away at her lungs. Her only hope for survival lay in the ECMO machine—an extraordinary life support device that temporarily assumes the role of the heart and lungs, allowing the patient’s organs to rest.
Amelia’s mother, Trina, recalls the agonising moment when Dr. James Winearls, an Intensive Care Specialist, and Clinic 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.
Amelia awoke from her coma to a daunting new reality, her small frame now reliant on life support and commandeered by the large tubes of the ECMO machine. For 23 days, her young life hung in the balance. Looking down at the tubes and wires, Amelia couldn’t help but reflect on the stark contrast between her predicament and the carefree lives her friends were leading.
“With ECMO, you can see your life support because it runs down your legs. I would look down and think this is just awful, for someone who is 19 to be in this situation, all of my friends are out, and all their birthdays were happening and I’m on life support,” Amelia said
Pictures of Amelia with her family and friends hung on her ICU room wall were a beacon of hope in her most vulnerable moments.
Despite miraculously surviving her brush with death, Amelia has a long road to recovery and medical checkups ahead of her. Her once active and able body was exhausted and frail and there was a period where she couldn’t even talk, swallow, or walk, and months on she easily loses her breath. She tortured herself over the things she once did so easily, and now felt like a mammoth task.
“I couldn’t talk which I feel like was the worst thing for me, I’m such a chatter, I will talk the house down, so my boyfriend and I created our own little sign language to say “I love you” so I just had some way to communicate,” said Amelia.
Even hooked up to the ECMO machine, Amelia’s recovery included physio and speech therapy. “They would take me through exercises asking me to say “ahh” and “eee” and I kept thinking, I’m 19 I don’t want to be doing this I’m not a baby,” recalls Amelia.
There were times when Amelia felt absolutely defeated as she feared for her future but regardless of her most challenging moments, with the support of her family, boyfriend, her amazing medical team, and Taylor Swift tunes, she slowly gained back her vigour.
Dr Winearls dedicates Amelia’s recovery to her incredible determination. “It was amazing to see her strength, not just her physical strength but her mental strength, to be able to cope with what she went through and still be smiling,” he said.
Lifesaving Equipment and Training Resources funded by Gold Coast Hospital Foundation
The ECMO life support machine is a world-class level of treatment. It involves a highly complex and high-risk intervention, requiring rigorous training and ongoing recertification. To help ensure the ICU team have the skills they need to save the lives of critically ill patients just like Amelia and the other Gold Coast locals who rely on ECMO each year, Gold Coast Hospital Foundation funded the training mannequin for the ECMO machine.
New Mobile ECMO Machine
Gold Coast Hospital Foundation is also funding a mobile ECMO machine (which will be known as the ECMO Retrieval Service) giving more Gold Coast locals an increased chance of survival. ECMO teams will be on the road, and present at major events like the Gold Coast Marathon to perform lifesaving support immediately on scene, saving precious minutes which could mean the difference between life and death.
“In the space of a decade with the support of the equipment and the education resources the Foundation has given us, 10 times the amount of nurses are ECMO trained and triple the number of ICU consultants. This result is due to the incredible support we receive from the Foundation,” said Dr Winearls.
We need your help to reunite families this Christmas by donating to Gold Coast Hospital Foundation. Your valuable donation will help us fund critical equipment and training resources like the ECMO training mannequin that helped train the nurses and doctors who saved Amelia’s life!