A Letter to our Friends, sent June 16 2012

Hi there everyone,

It’s now almost a week since our lives changed forever with the hospitalisation of Matthew, and it’s at this point that it’s worth telling everyone the story, and the reason for this will become clear.

Matthew had been unwell for a couple of weeks, and had been diagnosed with the flu by a number of different doctors, but last Wednesday, he deteriorated very quickly with severe joint pain and fever. Dad and Diane, Matt’s wife, brought him to the Mater Hospital in Brisbane, and he was admitted to intensive care where he was subsequently diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome, courtesy of a strep bacteria.

He was at that stage given a 50/50 chance of survival, but he deteriorated very quickly, and he was placed in an induced coma on Thursday morning. He was not expected to make the night on Thursday, but he did, but it was clear that his extremities (arms and legs) were being attacked by the infection. It was identified that his left arm was the major source of the infection, and this was amputated on Friday afternoon. We were told on Friday night that this had not been enough to stem the infection, and that he would die.

It appears that he had other ideas. On Saturday morning, the doctors and surgical team presented us with the only option available to save his life, which was to complete a full amputation of all his limbs in an effort to get on top of the infection. It was clear at this point that his limbs were dying, and this process was contributing to the toxicity in his body. There was no guarantee that this would work; in fact, it was likely that he would die regardless, and very likely that he would actually die on the operating table. If he did survive the infection without taking this action, all his limbs were in the process of dying and would need to be amputated at a later stage regardless. The willingness of doctors to attempt to save Matthew’s life in this way was dependent upon the results of a CT scan that was required to determine whether the infection had spread into his lungs and brain.

As a family, we agreed that if the CT scan indicated that the infection hadn’t spread, we would allow the surgeons to go ahead with the operation in an attempt to save his life. We agreed that Matthew was in fact the only person for whom we would make this decision, and that if it had been anyone else, we would have agreed to let nature take its course. Those of you who know Matthew well would understand why. As the father of four very young children (Emily – 2, Will – 6, Ben – 7, and Luke – 8), he has been the source of strength and joy to everyone who has been fortunate enough to be part of his life. An incredibly optimistic, stable, and passionate person, he has always been the one to encourage, advise, and counsel others. As Diane would say, he’s just perfect. He’s the only one we think would be strong enough to cope with what would be asked of him if he survived.

On Saturday afternoon, the family gathered, including all our children, and we said our goodbyes, which was undoubtedly the saddest thing any of us have ever had to do, and we waved him off as he went to theatre not thinking we would ever see him again. The operation was expected to take most of the evening, and would remove all his limbs.

It’s amazing what tragedy can do, and the moments of joy that you can find in the process. With little left to do but wait, the mood as the hours went on became somewhat celebratory, and even the nurse who came to advise us that he was on his way back to ICU almost had to contain her delight. And so he returned from theatre and began his fight.

And fought he has continued to do. It’s now a week since our journey began, and he has improved steadily every day, to the complete amazement of everyone involved, including the medical staff. His case has been unique from the outset. Prior to his final bout of surgery, Diane asked the medical team to believe in him, because we did, and it has been heartening to see them rally behind Matthew as they’ve become more confident that he had it in him to survive.

So we’re at the stage where Matthew’s life support is being withdrawn and he is becoming more independent each day. He is still in an induced coma but his sedation is also being withdrawn. He remains critical, and he’s certainly not out of the woods yet, but there’s growing hope every day.

For all of us, life won’t ever be the same. We don’t know how the story is going to unfold, and what Matthew’s response will be when he awakes and becomes aware of what has happened to him. What we do know is that we’re all very aware of the implications of the decision to operate to save his life, for everyone, but particularly him and his wife, Diane, and their children.

One of the reasons for putting this in writing is so that we don’t have to revisit this moment in the future. As time goes on, hopefully, this week will dim into one of those ‘can’t really remember the details’ periods of life. We don’t really want to talk about what happened in the past, but about what’s ahead. So, in catching up with people, we’ll be really happy to talk about how Matthew’s doing, but think we would like to leave the past week behind.

Hopefully, the story has a happy ending, and at some point we’ll be able to reflect upon the turning point in our lives with a view to what it gave us all. In the meantime, thank you all so much for hanging in there with us, and we’ll look forward to catching up with you all at some stage.

All our love.

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