Rainbow Beach teenager thriving after parents ignore advice to switch off life support
- July 19, 2018
Originally published on ABC 19 July 2018
Two weeks after Tristan Sik was critically injured in a road accident, doctors advised his parents to turn off his life support permanently, but they ignored that advice believing he would get better. They were right.
On July 15, 2017 Tristan was riding his bike through his home town in Rainbow Beach, Queensland when he hit the bull bar of a four-wheel drive travelling at 60 kilometres per hour.
The town's only ambulance officer on duty at the time, Marc Shearman, was the first emergency responder to arrive at the scene.
"I got a call that a young child had been hit by a car and unfortunately he sustained quite severe head injuries and he was quite unwell," Mr Shearman said.
"Myself and the other paramedics and doctors on scene were all very concerned at what the potential outcome would have been on that day.
"I don't think many of us held much hope that he would survive the accident."
Tristan was flown to Lady Cilento Children's Hospital (LCCH) in Brisbane in a rescue helicopter with his mother, Carolyn Elder, by his side while his stepfather, Dave Elder, made the 240km drive to Brisbane.
Turning off life support
After two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit doctors advised Tristan's parents to switch off his life support as they believed he had no chance of recovery.
"It was quite surreal," Mrs Elder said.
"I was in the shower that night crying, sitting in the corner bawling my eyes out and I just heard the words, 'Give him more time'.
"So every step of the way that's what I've done."
In an attempt to show the futility of keeping Tristan alive, doctors demonstrated what would happen if his life support was stopped.
"The doctor pulled the tubes out and he maintained his airway so he could breathe unassisted and the doctor actually said to me, 'Wow, I'm shocked'," Mrs Elder said.
"Two days later that doctor came back into Tristan's room and said, 'I'm here to eat my words. We haven't seen what Tristan is capable of'."
Improvements 'beyond belief'
Tristan returned home after almost six months in hospital and he started improving "beyond belief".
Doctors told the family he achieved milestones in six weeks they thought would take eight months.
"I don't know if it was the sensory input of being home and us getting him out every day in his home town, but it was like a switch was turned on," Mrs Elder said.
The family had been told Tristan would never be able to put a cup to his mouth but he started sucking on a lollipop.
He started opening his eyes on command and began walking with assistance, and in the last six months the improvements have further confounded doctors.
A family rallies together
Tristan's Grandmother, Maree Robinson, could not be prouder of her daughter for her resilience in caring for Tristan.
"Right from the word go when everything was so devastating she just kept praying for Tristan to survive," Mrs Robinson said.
"She has three other children to look after and still to this day I just don't know how she kept going and kept her family together.
"I've seen her so wiped out. I mean physically, mentally exhausted, but still being the best mother she could be to the other children and being there and talking to Tristan and saying she had his back all the time."
The family is treating Tristan's recovery as a miracle.
"The mood is just one of elation. We all feel that he will have a good life. A good future," Mrs Robinson said.
Returning to school
During the last school term Tristan defied the odds by returning to school at Victory College in Gympie for two hour sessions once a week to give him the opportunity to socialise with his classmates.
Next week Tristan, now 14, will return one day a week for school lessons as well, which will increase as he continues to recover.
"We already know he can spell and write and read and do his basic maths.
"Now it's just about making sure his brain can actually process a little bit more than that," Mrs Elder said.
"The old Tristan is also coming back; he's making jokes and teasing people."
Paramedic raises funds for rehab
One year on from Tristan's accident and the paramedic who played a key role in Tristan's survival is still championing him.
In a fundraising effort to raise money for Tristan's hydrotherapy pool, Mr Shearman shaved off his much-loved beard.
"I'm very fortunate I've been able to build a relationship with Tristan and Carolyn and [I am] very grateful for that.
"It's fantastic just to see him come so far and it's exciting the thought of how far he'll be able to recover," Mr Shearman said.
In total $7,750 has been raised by the tight-knit Rainbow Beach community and Mrs Elder said she feels hopeful that Tristan will be walking soon.
"We do have hopes that he will be walking unassisted by Christmas," she said.
"The possibilities are endless. I wouldn't have said this six months ago.
"I didn't know where we would get to, but now I really feel like Tristan will make a full recovery."