When eight-year-old Jaylee complained of a sore throat and feeling unwell one Friday morning her mum Tracey kept her home from school, believing it was a common virus that would pass with some rest. However, the following day Jaylee began to go downhill quickly and told her parents she was finding it hard to breathe.
“It all happened so fast, Jaylee’s dad called 000 and when the paramedics arrived they had to put a breathing tube in and stabilise her before taking her to hospital,” said Tracey.
Jaylee was rushed to the nearest hospital and later transferred to The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) for specialist care. At 3.40am on Sunday morning she went into cardiac arrest and was placed on a heart lung machine called Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO).
Professor Igor Konstantinov, the cardiac surgeon who placed Jaylee on ECMO that night, said she was at that time in septic shock and was requiring ongoing resuscitation.
“We knew that Jaylee was extremely sick and at risk of brain and other organ damage. We needed to get her on to ECMO support that night as soon as we possibly could. This is only possible because the RCH has what we call a ‘rapid response surgical team’ that allows us to place patients like Jaylee on ECMO at any time of the day or night,” Igor said.
Tracey said that it was the scariest night of her life. “At the time we didn’t know if she’d make it through the night, and the hardest part was thinking we’d have to say goodbye to our little girl. The doctors were still searching for what was causing her illness so we still didn’t know why all of this was happening,” she said.
RCH Director of Intensive Care, Associate Professor Warwick Butt, said Jaylee was found to have a condition called Group A Streptococcus sepsis, a bacterial infection that had poisoned her blood and began to shut down many of her organs, requiring urgent life support.
“ECMO is used at most major centres in Australia and New Zealand; but this specific type of ECMO ( the central ‘high flow’ technique) used for severe life threatening infections was developed in 2001 at the RCH by the departments of intensive care, cardiac surgery and cardiac perfusion,” said Warwick.
“This is a complicated and difficult technique that requires many different experts to make it work. However we have had great success with this technique in the past; and our results in this situation are the best in the world. We were hopeful that it would work and help save Jaylee’s life,” he said.
After the diagnosis Tracey said Warwick came to see the family and said the team would do everything they possibly could to get Jaylee back home to them. “I’ll never forget that,” she said.
“Jaylee went through so much, she had two open heart surgeries, multiple seizures, her hands and feet turned black from the infection, she had an enlarged spleen and had to have a tracheotomy to assist her breathing. She had to fight so hard to survive,” Tracey said.
After placing Jaylee on ECMO, cardiac surgeons Professor Igor Konstantinov and Associate Professor Yves D’Udekem performed five surgical procedures for Jaylee on Rosella (Paediatric Intensive Care Unit) and she remained on ECMO support for almost a month.
After more than 50 days in intensive care, Jaylee was finally well enough to be transferred to the Sugar Glider (Medical Care Ward) where she continued her rehabilitation, which included having to learn to walk, talk and eat again. However, her battle still wasn’t over. One morning her heart rate rapidly increased and she was transferred back to Rosella for further intensive care before transitioning again to Sugar Glider to continue her rehabilitation.
Over three months since Jaylee was rushed to hospital, she was finally able to return home. “Warwick was right, the team at the RCH did everything to keep her alive and they were able to give us our fairytale ending, we could finally take our little girl home.”
“Jaylee went from not being able to sit up for longer than five seconds to walking, talking and smiling again,” said Tracey. “They thought it would take her years to get to where she is now but she’s doing so well, she’s just amazing.”
“I would give the doctors my life for what they’ve done, they went far and beyond and I felt so special, the way not only Jaylee but our whole family, was looked after. From the intensive care team to the play therapists, everyone was fantastic, without them she couldn’t have got through what she did, and neither could we.”
Because of your support, sick children like Jaylee access the very best technology and equipment when they need it most. Your donations ensure families like Jaylee’s are supported using the most advanced tools. To donate visit rchfoundation.org.au/donate