Grateful for our modern medical world

Written by Leanne Esposito

If you don’t believe in miracles, then you’ve forgotten that you are one.

What would you do and how would you feel if your child had been saved by a city of angels?

This is a story of the courage and bravery of one little girl and the overwhelming support she received from hundreds of family, friends and medical geniuses, and the phenomenal feats that saved her life. It is also a story of an awakening, awareness and the promise to do more.

Abraham Lincoln, Rose Kennedy and Theodin from the Lord of the Rings The Two Towers have all, through personal loss and grief, stated an obvious truth that “no parent should have to bury a child.” Granted the LOTR is fantasy, but it is a fantasy about a semi-medieval or pre-modern world. So, in the context of such a world, child and infant mortality would be rather high. In the real-world Lincoln and Kennedy both suffered losses with the death of children, each stating that it was every parent’s worst nightmare.

Thankfully in this modern world of ours the child mortality rate has decreased significantly. Statistically, the chance of children surviving into adulthood has greatly increased in the last 200 years due to advances in medicine.

Across the Wide Bay we are fortunate that numerous dedicated expert medical personnel are servicing hospitals in Bundaberg, Maryborough and Hervey Bay. Daily they do the work of angels.

For one local family the drama which has reshaped their lives and given them a potently breathtaking memory of 2021 began earlier this year. Parents Maureen Murphy and Andrew Brenia were plunged into a nightmarish, touch and go world, when their 11-year-old daughter Cianna was injured in a freak farm accident. Due the severity of her injuries and massive blood loss Cianna was to ‘crash’ and be revived several times during her time in hospital. The ‘D’ word wasn’t mentioned but death was an ever-present reality.

What started out as a fun day on the farm in the blink of an eye turned to drama when Cianna was pierced through the abdomen by an errant stick. According to Maureen, Cianna’s recollection of events are still sharp. Immediately after the initial incident, while possibly in shock, she did not lose consciousness. She stayed calm. Cianna has since told her mother how she felt the stick stab through her right leg, only she wasn’t aware of how deeply it entered her body. They later learnt that it went right through to her abdomen, severing a main vein. Maureen tells me of the events surrounding the incident.

“Cianna was on my mum’s property with a friend who was 10. They were driving around in a small dune buggy which was equipped with a full cage and seat belts. They each wore helmets and goggles. It is a large property, and they continuously cleared the perimeters. It was a windy day that weekend. On the fifth time around the friend was going to have a go. Cianna attempted to clear the debris by rolling over the sticks and breaking them up; something she had done on numerous occasions. Instead of snapping this flexible stick flicked up underneath the buggy and stabbed her.

Still, she thought that she could drive up and get help so she pushed her foot on the pedal but she couldn’t do it. She told her friend to run and get help and she ran for my son Jaxon who is 9. The friend was screaming. They alerted my brother James who took her up to the house and kept her awake while they awaited medical help,” Maureen said.

Soon Cianna gave way to unconsciousness. The ambulance was on its way, but she was losing blood fast. James does not hold a first aid certificate, yet he instinctively performed CPR on his niece. It was the first step to saving her life. During the ride to hospital Cianna was in a precarious position.

Andrew and Maureen met the ambulance at the hospital thinking it was only a minor incident. Maureen tells me that when the doors to the ambulance opened she was shocked to her core. It was a bitter-sweet moment as her brave little girl greeted her mother with a smile.

“Her skin was grey. She looked at me and said hi mum. It was such a relief. I found out later that the ambos were so happy that she acknowledged me. She was in a delicate state throughout the ride to the hospital,” she said.

As the emergency room doors closed behind it’s clear that Maureen was still unaware of the severity of Cianna’s injury. However, after surveying the room and doing a summary headcount, warning lights began to flicker in her mind and then disaster struck.

“There were forty people in teams of colours all around the emergency room I remember looking at them and thinking that it was a bit of an overkill for just a stick in the leg. The head of emergency introduced himself and while he was talking to me she coded – they were performing CPR.

“They were working quickly. Like a machine. Groups of people moved forward and then back for another team to take over. It was incredible. Very professional. So well trained.

“After bringing in the ultrasound and investigating they found it was worse than first thought. They rushed her to theatre. Apparently it was the quickest evaluation ever at the Hervey Bay Hospital – 17 minutes from emergency into theatre. The emergency doctor told me he was relieved to make it to theatre. It was surreal. We were told of the severed vein and that she had lost four fifths of her blood,” Maureen said.

The rollercoaster ride between life and death began. And it wouldn’t be the last time that Cianna found herself standing on the edge of life’s cliff face. She had so many medical mountains to climb over in the next few months.

The surgical team worked on her for over eleven hours. The doctors would provide Maureen with an update every two. After eight of those hours a doctor told her that Cianna was still critical, that they were winning, and there was a glimmer of hope. He said that Hervey Bay was in damage control and that they needed to get her to a Brisbane hospital. Maureen was living every parent’s worst nightmare.

“As a mum I was planning her funeral and imagining my life without her. I was thinking how am I going to live? I didn’t talk to anyone. I would jump up each time the doctor appeared,” she said.

When Cianna was admitted to ICU Maureen watched a thirty strong team of ICU specialists attend to her survival.

“We watched off to the side like spectators. Everyone had a job. No one was standing around. A wardie was running in with blood. There was a relay cycle getting blood. A CPR team. She was on so many monitors. She was critical. Then they said they were flying her to Brisbane.

“They were running out of blood. They called in the retrieval team but she was too critical for them.

“The head of ICU at the children’s hospital was flown up to make the decision and he was here for a few hours as we sat and watched him.

“Every time she moved she was crashing and they were performing CPR. The most critical part was taking her from ICU to the helicopter.

“A team of 30 followed us up in a line to the helicopter. As we took to the air I saw all the nurses and ward managers – it was like looking down at a city of angels,” she said.

Maureen who was told to stay in her seat at all costs – even if the worst should happen – cried the entire trip. Her partner Brian Westlake drove from Hervey Bay to Brisbane arriving at 2am. After the helicopter took flight another landed within two minutes. The remaining family thought the worst.

Later they heard there was a critical patient from an accident on that helicopter. When Maureen was informed she started thinking about that accident victim. She and Andrew did a count of the blood that Cianna had used at around 50 litres. They were concerned for that patient.

“Because we heard about that accident coming in after us that Sunday and we had watched the number of people running for blood while we were sitting in ICU we thought the person after needed it. We worried that Hervey Bay needed more blood so we contacted our families and friends to go and donate. We contacted Lifeblood to get more people to donate via the Cianna (#donateforcianna) Facebook page,” Maureen said.

In an amazing call to action 600 people donated. The group gathered the most blood and was ranked number one in the region during the first six months.

However, Cianna’s first six weeks were not so easy. Her plans to return home by Easter were thwarted due to another medical emergency. She was rushed to the surgical ward and was again unresponsive as a huge blood clot occupied her entire stomach. It was caused by the fluctuations of her blood pressure. It erupted. Once again she faced death. Maureen makes an observation on Cianna’s strength.

“I thought I had lost her that night. It was precarious. She had defied all odds. We had been happy and laughing. Cianna takes you right to the edge and pulls you (with her) as she fights for her life,” Maureen said.

During the next four weeks in hospital Cianna lost 10 kilos in weight. However, her waif like appearance didn’t spoil her homecoming as she and Maureen decided to make a surprise appearance.

According to Maureen Cianna is now 80 percent normal and back playing her beloved netball, even representing her region. Netball is her passion and it’s what kept her going while in hospital with the Queensland Firebirds sending her well-wishes, videos and a membership to upcoming games. A major reward is to meet her Firebird training partner.

As Cianna grows with a focus towards health and they look to the future Maureen tells me how their perspectives on life have changed. They now live in gratitude for the people of this region who rallied around them with gifts of food, vouchers and rehabilitation.

“I am a true Hervey Bay cliché. I grew up here, went off to uni and returned to have a family. When I saw this big community rallying around my child I was completely overwhelmed by the responses of the collective humanity. I feel very connected and loved. This place is magic. We received a surge of support. It’s like we’ve been given a massive warm hug,” she said.

While Cianna’s stomach scar heals it will be forever a reminder of what she’s endured as her eyes are now open to the plight of the sick and suffering of people like those she encountered in hospital. Her mission in life now is to give back and has asked her mum when can she give blood.

The events that surround Cianna’s story is best summed up by the words of Alsatian theologian, musician, philosopher, and physician Albert Schweitzer M.D.

Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.”