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Terry Vo returns to Princess Margaret Hospital days before closure, as a new hospital chapter begins #australia #australia_news #ABC_News #Just_In


Posted

June 09, 2018 08:33:58

When a freak basketball accident severed his hands and leg, Terry Vo spent six months of his childhood getting familiar with the corridors of Princess Margaret Hospital.

It’s been more than a decade since Terry Vo spent six months in Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) as a 10-year-old boy, after both his hands and one of his legs were cut off in a horrific accident while playing basketball at a friend’s house.

As the now 23-year-old medical student sits in the near-empty hospital room where he spent half a year of his childhood, his perpetual smile momentarily leaves his face as the memories from his time at PMH come flooding back.

“This room was a part of my life for six months,” Mr Vo says.

“Every day, every night — and I guess it’s kind of sad, but I’m glad in a way.

“I am not sure how to describe the feeling. It’s nostalgic.”

Mr Vo quickly notices the overwhelming silence of the once bustling ward.

Like much of the hospital, it has just closed in preparation for the move to the new Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH) on Sunday.

The nurses’ station is still. There are no children in the playroom. There are no worried parents pacing the hallways.

“The beeps, the bells, the alerts,” Mr Vo remembers. “It’s so quiet. It’s very eerie.”

Even without the normal bustle and chaos of the hospital, every part of the room — the four walls, the windows, the bed — remains hugely significant to Mr Vo.

“Like, even that cupboard over there,” he says, laughing.

“It’s just really strange being here again and seeing it, not from a hospital bed.”

‘I didn’t feel any pain because of the shock’

The horrific accident happened on a Saturday night of a long weekend in March, 2005.

Mr Vo was at a friend’s house playing basketball with his mates, and was about to head inside to grab a drink when someone threw him the ball.

“Everyone was like, ‘yeah, dunk it, dunk it!'” Mr Vo recalls.

“I ran up and I dunked it and I held on and I remember it being very, very quiet. Everything went silent.

“I started to hear the walls crack from left to right, and it was like slow motion.”

Mr Vo remembers closing his eyes as the garage wall to which the hoop was attached collapsed onto him.

“I didn’t feel any pain just because of the shock.”

Often extreme trauma is coupled with memory loss, but Mr Vo remembers every moment.

“When I opened my eyes, it was all gone,” he says.

Both hands and his left leg had been severed.

“There was a bone sticking out of my right arm and my left arm was torn.”

“My foot was cut off as well … I could still feel it but I couldn’t move it.”

‘Dreams and reality’ mixed together

Mr Vo tried to walk, unaware of his extreme injuries.

“But obviously, I fell down. I landed on my elbows,” he says.

“That’s when sound started coming back to me and I heard screaming from the parents.”

But even through the pain and shock, he began telling jokes to calm those around him.

Paramedics arrived and asked his age.

“I’m 10 and I’ve got 90 to go,” he told them.

Mr Vo remembers seeing the pink neon emergency sign outside PMH, the hospital ceiling as he was rushed to surgery and “dreams and reality” mixing together in the intensive care unit.

“The next thing I knew, I was in this room,” he says, looking around.

What he does not remember is the eight-hour surgery performed well into the night by three surgical teams.

A desperate operation to save Terry Vo

Specialist plastic surgeon Robert Love led the complex operation to save Mr Vo’s limbs.

“It became immediately obvious that this was a very unusual injury,” he recalls.

“[We knew] we would need to muster all of the resources that a hospital of Princess Margaret’s excellence would be able to muster.”

The hospital itself almost stood still as medical staff, some who weren’t even on call, rushed to help.

A complex plan was quickly mapped out and the staff got to work.

“This is where it was very unusual to try and mount three separate teams so that all three parts could actually be replanted synchronously within an acceptable period, such that it would give all the parts the maximal chance of survival,” Dr Love says.

“That meant multiple different teams.

“Whilst in the operating theatre … there was a feel of enormous comradery and enormous spirit.”

Dr Love wasn’t just impressed by his surgical team, but the child whose limbs they were desperately trying to reattach.

“People will approach their injuries in many different ways,” Dr Love says.

“Terry himself has touched the hearts of many of those who were involved in his care because of his positive attitude and his preparedness to find good in every part of his care.”

Mr Vo was able to maintain that attitude even when doctors were forced to amputate his foot nine days later because the reattachment was unsuccessful.

Dr Love told reporters at the time his young patient was “a little bit happy, and a little bit sad” at the prospect.

“He saw the need for the foot to be amputated and was far more accepting of it, and far more in favour of it, than the staff or the parents,” Dr Love said at a media briefing.

Mr Vo was fitted for a prosthetic limb, leading to one of his favourite memories during his recovery.

“I took my first steps in the corridor outside this room,” he says.

“All the nurses were looking. I remember them cheering me on.”

A place of care for generations of children

Those momentous steps are just one of many significant achievements which took place in the corridors, rooms, and operating theatres of PMH over more than 100 years.

The hospital opened its doors in 1909 after a determined campaign led by Perth businessman Charles Moore.

It opened with 40 beds and one operating theatre.

There would be few West Australian families who didn’t have at least one tale to tell from PMH — a visit for a high temperature that caused alarm, a broken arm or something more serious.

From the neon pink emergency lights, to cartoon characters that adorned the walls, to the starlight room and the sounds of Radio Lollipop, those intricate details remain etched in the memories of its young patients.

It was a decade ago that the Carpenter Labor government revealed a pledge to build the new Perth Children’s Hospital.

PCH was dealt several construction blows, including a lead contamination scare in the drinking water, which contributed to its lengthy delay.

But finally, three years behind schedule, a staged opening began in May, and the first elective surgeries have been carried out.

Now PCH is ready to take on the full responsibility of the state’s sick children.

At 7:00am on Sunday, PMH will close its emergency department and the new Perth Children’s Hospital will open its own.

The state will say goodbye to an institution, but its impact and memories impressed upon those who needed it will not be forgotten.

“PMH, it means … it’s almost like another family,” Mr Vo says.

“It’s weird to associate happiness with a hospital. I think that’s a really, really awesome thing to have.”

PCH will allow current and future staff to provide WA families with another century of quality care.

“The heart of healthcare in Western Australia rests very, very much with all of the providers and the staff,” Dr Love says.

“I would say that the heart has remained, it’s just been transplanted to a new site.”

Credits

  • Reporting: Eliza Laschon
  • Photography: Hugh Sando
  • Production: Nikki Roberts and Liam Phillips

Topics:

child-health-and-behaviour,

healthcare-facilities,

health,

society,

subiaco-6008,

nedlands-6009,

shenton-park-6008



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