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'I received a second chance at life thanks to a complete stranger'

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Eight years ago when a dying patient came under the care of a Brisbane based trauma surgeon, their lives connected in ways neither could have predicted.

Darryl: The first time I met Martin, was the 17th July 2010. I was unconscious, in an induced coma actually. It took another three weeks before we truly got to meet.

My first memory of Martin was him sitting on the side of my bed in the intensive care unit (ICU), wearing a big smile and this bright red polo shirt, embossed with the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital  (RBWH) trauma services insignia. I remember glancing down at my left wrist and seeing it heavily bandaged. The last memory I had was that I was about to be involved in a high speed head on motorcycle accident with a wayward car trailer. At the time I thought broken wrist how good is this, barely a scratch. What I didn’t realise was I had sustained catastrophic injuries to much of my body. For the past three weeks this complete stranger had battled against insurmountable odds, to firstly save my life, and then continue to fight for my life, almost on a daily basis.

Over the course of those three weeks, Martin became almost an adopted member of my family.

After I was transferred from ICU to the ward, Martin would always make a point of visiting me each day, even though I was no longer under his direct care. His focus was always looking after my best interests.

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After three months at the RBWH, I was transferred to the Mater Private Rehab facility and Martin continued to drop by to see how I was going. On one particular day, he arrived around dinner time, rather than interrupt my meal, he sat with me while I ate. I introduced Martin to the three other patients sitting at the dinner table with me to which one of them replied, 'so you mean, you have your own personal surgeon who visits you no matter where you are?' He wasn’t far from the truth. Martin provides a whole new definition for the term ‘customer service’.

Eight years on and Martin and I don’t get to spend a lot of time together due to our busy work and family lives, but we are never far each other’s thoughts. We share a common bond of wanting to make a difference in people’s lives, even if it is only for a fleeting moment. This common desire to help people saw us establish our Red Blanket Miracle project along with my wife, Julie, in 2015. We raise funds to help improve trauma care services and share our insights at medical conferences on how trauma care could be improved.

The 17th of July 2010 is a day I’ll never forget. Not because of a catastrophic accident but because that day, I received a second chance at life. A miracle delivered by a complete stranger, a stranger named Martin.

Darryl
Darryl in the ICU unit following his accident. Photo: Supplied
Supplied

Martin: Eight years ago, after having performed an operation on a severely injured motorcyclist, I was about to leave the hospital and head home. I was walking through the ICU at the RBWH and decided to quickly visit a second patient who had been involved in the same motorbike accident and had also undergone life-saving surgery.

When I arrived at his bedside, I looked at him and his numbers on the monitors of the life-support equipment.  Straight away, I knew he was in a lot of trouble and wouldn’t make it through the night.  As I stood there looking at him, I had this overwhelming feeling that I just couldn’t let him die. I had to do something, but what to do would be the challenge given his vital signs and the magnitude of his injuries. What I didn’t know at the time, was that many people were praying to support him and his family. So, I was part of a bigger plan, without knowing it.

After having confirmed my first impression of his condition with the senior ICU doctor and having spoken with the patient’s devastated family and wife (who was overseas in France at the time with their baby daughter), I made the decision to take him back to the operating theatre in one last bid to save his life.

Over the next few weeks, while he was still in an induced coma, his loved ones told me many stories about him and his many great attributes. I really became more and more curious to get to know him and talk to him.

Darryl
Darryl in hospital learning to walk again after his accident. Photo: Supplied
Supplied

Once he woke up and was able to speak again, Darryl and I finally got the chance to talk with each other! It was a fantastic experience to share both of our stories, and circumstances under which we met. Unwrapping the preceding weeks to this remarkable story was amazing and showed us both that our paths were meant to cross. 

Watching and being part of Darryl’s recovery journey was a real pleasure; I admire him for his positivity and goal-oriented attitude, which he displayed day for day. I can’t recall one day that Darryl was down in his mood.

I very much enjoyed Darryl’s company; quite often at the end of my afternoon ward rounds, after having seen all the other patients, I went around to visit Darryl. It developed into not only a doctor’s visit, but also into a visit of a friend. It just came naturally, as both of us appreciated the growing friendship. At certain times, if I had a bad day or I was just a bit drained after a long day, I looked forward to catching up with Darryl and hearing of his progress. Throughout our conversations I found my positive spirit and passion quickly rejuvenated, and I was back on track. I learnt to understand and even apply different communication styles and Darryl’s input challenged my practise as a surgeon in a positive way.

Once Darryl was discharged to rehab and then back home, we stayed in touch. On a regular basis, we catch up, get together for family birthdays or other celebrations.

Very early on in sharing our stories, we started to think big and dream. Clearly, Darryl’s survival story was meant to happen for a purpose. Our paths crossed via a tragic event; our relationship evolved over the years into a true friendship, and our mission became to challenge and support others going through adversity in their lives. 

Watch the full episode of Rebuilding Your Life here:

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Life can change in an instant. And in that instant, many hopes and dreams can be cruelly snatched away. When we’re hit with catastrophic injuries, how and where do we even begin to move forward and rebuild our lives?
Life can change in an instant. And in that instant, many hopes and dreams can be cruelly snatched away. When we’re hit with catastrophic injuries, how and where do we even begin to move forward and rebuild our lives?