When 21-month-old Austin was admitted to his local hospital in July 2022, his little body was fighting several viral illnesses.
Austin was already critically unwell before things took a turn for the worse. With his body under so much strain, Austin went into cardiac arrest for eight long and terrifying minutes.
With time of the essence, the Newborn and paediatric Emergency Transport Service (NETS) were urgently called to transfer him to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, while provide specialised paediatric intensive care on route.
Austin’s mum Caryl says seeing the NETS team arrive was a huge relief.
“We were still in shock,” Caryl remembers, “but they explained everything to us and reassured us that he was in the best hands possible.
“We knew they had access to everything they needed to help him if something happened. I remember them saying, ‘Don’t worry, we will take care of him.’ They were his guardian angels.”
NETS is the largest admitting paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) in NSW. The service’s ambulances double as mobile ICU’s. Along with referring hospitals, they play a vital role in the emergency response system by providing critical care to children like Austin in the first six hours of their illness.
Thanks to the incredible generosity of a Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation (SCHF) donor, we were able to fund one of these NETS ambulances. In the first seven months of operation, that ambulance travelled 22,512km to complete 187 retrieval missions across NSW, including from Tamworth, Wollongong and Port Macquarie, making a life-saving and life-changing difference for babies and children, like Austin.
When Austin arrived The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, he was quickly admitted to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit and diagnosed with enterovirus encephalitis. That meant a dangerous virus had found its way into his brain, causing significant damage.
Austin needed a tracheostomy to help him breath and was paralysed from the neck down. His fingers were the only part of his body he was able to move.
Caryl and her husband AJ worried what that meant for his chances of survival and prospects for the future.
“We didn’t know how he would recover,” Caryl says. “The part of his brain that was affected controls learning and movement, so we didn’t know if he’d ever walk, eat, learn or see properly again.”
But with his trademark determination and positivity – and lots of intensive support from teams in the PICU, Kids Rehab and Commercial Travellers ward at the Hospital – Austin has made an extraordinary recovery.
This brave little boy is now standing and eating on his own and has started to meet a number of his important intellectual milestones. He has also had his tracheotomy removed.
No one has been more overcome or delighted by Austin’s progress than his mum.
“To think back on how Austin was even three months ago, he is totally different. He has surpassed everyone’s expectations,” Caryl says.
“We’ve seen him progress so far, and with his intense rehab he is achieving things we never thought he would. None of that would have been possible without the support of NETS and his hospital family.”
After 107 days in hospital, Austin was ready to go home, incredibly without needing the support of any medical equipment at all. The plan now is for him to continue his rehab as an outpatient of the Hospital – with the hope of continuing to surpass everyone’s expectations.
Caryl says she couldn’t be more grateful to Austin’s ‘hospital family’, for helping to get him to where he is today.
To help show your support for critically ill children like Austin, donate today. Your donation will help ensure sick kids can continue receiving extraordinary care, when and where they need it.