Four-year-old Brisbane boy Quaden Bayles' biggest challenge to date has been slowly losing the use of his arms and legs as a result of building pressure on his spinal cord. SBS journalist Hannah Hollis follows Quaden and his family on an emotional journey as they prepare for high risk brain and spinal surgery.
I first meet Quaden Bayles sitting, iPad in hand, on his hospital bed in Brisbane.
It’s not until he jumps off his bed though, I notice his size. He’s just 65 centimetres tall. He was born with a condition called Achondroplasia. It’s one of the 200 types of dwarfism.
It affects the body’s ability to turn cartilage into bone which is a crucial part of development in the early years.
For this reason, children with Acondroplasia don’t take their first steps until they’re about 3 years old (some, ever later).
Recently, Quaden has been losing the use of his limbs because of pressure increasing in his skull.
An MRI scan reveals his brain is starting to pinch the top of his spine, restricting the signals being sent to his arms and legs.
He’s about to go into emergency surgery as doctors try to save his arms and legs.
Quaden, his older sisters Lili and Lala and their mum Yarraka wait for a nurse to escort them down to surgery.
Quaden doesn’t know it at the time and he probably won’t for a few years but this is his biggest operation of life so far.
My cameraman and I are ushered down the operating theatre to get some shots of the scrub nurses preparing the tools.
The first thing I see as we walk into operating theatre number eight, is a pint sized white table. It has a padded circular head rest at one end of the table (similar to when you have a massage).
As the nurses move the lights and state-of-the-art medical technology, one nurse is holding something that catches my eye. It’s metal and grey and looks like something you’d expect to see at the mechanics, not a new hospital. I'm told it’s what they will use to screw to keep Quaden’s head in pace. The shiny silver metal brace will be screwed into his skull to keep his head still. It’s not until the nurse tells me this, that the reality of the situation really hits me.
Quaden’s neurosurgeon Michael Redmond has been a practising surgeon since the mid 1980’s. With experience like that, Yarraka feels Quaden is in safe hands.
Quaden is put to sleep, I walk with Yarraka back along the winding corridor on level 4 to meet her family who were asked to wait in the waiting room. Despite Yarraka, Lili and Lala all having been through this process before, it’s hard to know what to say in that moment.
As I pace the empty ward with Yarraka, I’ve got one eye on her and the other on the clock. Time is passing incredibly slowly. We were warned before the operation, this surgery would take several hours. So when Yarraka receives a phone call from the nurse just two and a half hours into the operating, her heart starts to race.
Remarkably, given the timing, the news is good. Quaden has survived.
We race down to meet the surgeon and hear the good news in person. He takes us over to his monitor and explains what happened during surgery.
PICU, the Paediatrics Intensive Care Unit is where Quaden is recovering. When Yarraka’s eyes find his, I can’t imagine what that must feel like as a mother but judging by her face, it’s a combination of relief and joy.
He sings out for her and she rushes to his side.
Despite everything this family has had to endure, they were brave enough to let our camera’s document intimate moments are they face their biggest challenge.
Living Black airs Mondays at 5pm on SBS ONE and Tuesdays at 9pm on NITV