Sur­vivor rid­ing out tragedy

Tweed Daily News - - LIFE - Daniel Mcken­zie daniel.mcken­zie@tweed­dai­lynews.com.au

I felt fine, but by early af­ter­noon I was burn­ing up... — Ja­son Gall

RE­LAX­ING in his favourite chair at his Tweed Heads West home, a bright-eyed and af­fa­ble Ja­son Gall stands to mimic walk­ing a tightrope be­fore lift­ing his leg like a gym­nast.

While it may reg­is­ter as seem­ingly in­nocu­ous to most, the act is a mirac­u­lous achieve­ment for the sep­sis sur­vivor, whose pros­thetic legs are a stark re­minder of the hell en­dured since his world was turned up­side down a lit­tle over two years ago.

“Only spe­cial peo­ple get th­ese legs – spe­cial, co-or­di­nated peo­ple like me,” Mr Gall said, with a laugh, about the $20,000 state-of-the-art, pin-lock pros­thetic limbs that have al­lowed him more move­ment and sta­bil­ity.

“I’ve kept my sense of hu­mour. It’s easy to be happy – you adapt.”

Mr Gall’s abil­ity to adapt in the face of unimag­in­able hor­ror is a re­flec­tion of the life-long surfer’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to en­dure from near-cer­tain death to a point where get­ting back on the board is no longer a pipe dream.

Wear­ing the scars of a body rav­aged by an in­sid­i­ous ill­ness that should have cost him his life in July 2015, Mr Gall re­called a whirl­wind 24 hours, which started like any other day.

“I was wait­ing for high tide to drop out at Snap­per Rocks, so I went and saw a mate do his oys­ters in the morn­ing,” he said.

“I cut my fin­ger on a lit­tle bit of oys­ter, but I cleaned it out straight away and went surfing.

“I caught four waves and swal­lowed some wa­ter, like I al­ways do, but on the fourth wave I felt a cold com­ing on.

“I surfed ev­ery day so I wasn’t go­ing to push it, so I headed in. I was re­ally cold, so I got into my Hilux and put the heater on. I was still freez­ing and couldn’t get warm. I got home and laid down and it re­ally started com­ing on.”

Mr Gall’s long-term part­ner and now full-time carer, Karen Furs­man, re­turned home from work to find her soul­mate bed-bound with a high fever.

“I mon­i­tored him all night and gave him Panadol and ibupro­fen. But the next morn­ing we got up and I couldn’t be­lieve how clear his eyes were – I thought what­ever it was had left him,” Ms Furs­man said.

“I woke up all sweet and I was go­ing to go surfing again,” Mr Gall added.

Con­vinc­ing her part­ner to give the surfing a miss, the pair de­cided to re­lax at home on what was be­com­ing an in­creas­ingly hot day.

“I felt fine, but by early af­ter­noon I was burn­ing up and it was like a headache was com­ing on,” Mr Gall said.

De­te­ri­o­rat­ing rapidly, Ms Furs­man said it quickly be­came ap­par­ent that some­thing was se­ri­ously wrong.

“He started vom­it­ing, so I went to the chemist to get him some anti-nau­sea medicine. By 2.30pm, we were in the car and rac­ing to the hos­pi­tal,” she said.

Ar­riv­ing at Tweed Hos­pi­tal suf­fer­ing fever and con­fu­sion, Mr Gall jumped out of the car and dived onto the tiles to try to cool him­self from se­vere pins and nee­dles and burn­ing.

“They raced him into emer­gency to take his blood pres­sure, but he couldn’t even stay still,” Ms Furs­man said.

“They were in­spect­ing his body for snakebites, spi­der bite and for any in­di­ca­tion of poi­son­ing, but couldn’t find any­thing.”

By 7pm, Mr Gall was in an in­duced coma, and would spend the next six months in hos­pi­tal.

En­dur­ing mul­ti­ple op­er­a­tions and huge pain, Mr Gall had both his legs am­pu­tated be­low the knee in early Au­gust, be­fore be­ing trans­ferred to Gold Coast Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal on Au­gust 20, where he had his left hand am­pu­tated, fur­ther leg am­pu­ta­tions and mul­ti­ple skin grafts by the end of Septem­ber.

“The leg am­pu­ta­tions were the worst, I’ve never seen such pain,” said Ms Furs­man, who suf­fered PTSD from the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“They did three op­er­a­tions, one on his legs to cut above sep­sis, then an­other to go higher and re­shape nerves, then fur­ther up again.”

Mr Gall, de­spite be­ing com­pletely floored by high doses of ke­tamine, said the pain was un­re­lent­ing.

“Imag­ine some­one get­ting fenc­ing wire and ty­ing it around your legs and crank­ing it – that’s how it felt,” he said.

Af­ter be­ing brought out of a coma, Mr Gall was so dis­ori­en­tated he thought he was liv­ing on a float­ing barge with his staffy and a bowl of fish.

“I thought a fish had jumped up and died on my arm, it looked like a fish was stuck in there,” Mr Gall said of the in­tense dis­coloura­tion of his limbs as a re­sult of the sep­sis.

Mr Gall would en­dure blind­ness (his sight has re­turned), seizures, psy­chosis and delir­ium, a pinky am­pu­ta­tion, and life-sav­ing dial­y­sis be­fore even­tu­ally mak­ing his way home on De­cem­ber 11.

Af­ter mov­ing to the home he now calls his “com­pound” in April 2016, cast­ing a rod on the river out back is a favourite hobby, but the once great surfer and rugby league player has much big­ger fish to fry.

Mak­ing amaz­ing gains through weekly phys­io­ther­apy re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, a fundraiser was held for Mr Gall last week­end to help raise the $80,000 to $180,000 needed for a cus­tom-made I-limb.

The limb would al­low Mr Gall to per­form sim­ple, ev­ery­day tasks like dress­ing him­self and show­er­ing, with a Gofundme page set up to help raise cru­cial as­sis­tance.

The cause of Mr Gall’s sep­sis re­mains un­known, as the high loads of an­tibi­otics given to him dur­ing the ini­tial in­fec­tion ren­dered cul­ture test­ing use­less.

Mr Gall hopes a re­turn to the ocean will lead to a fu­ture as an adap­tive surfer.

“I miss it ev­ery day.”

PHO­TOS: SCOTT DAVIS

BIG FISH TO FRY: Ja­son Gall loves spend­ing time fish­ing in the river be­hind his Tweed Heads West home.

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

Sep­sis sur­vivor Ja­son Gall catch­ing a bar­rel back in his surfing days.

Ja­son Gall re­laxes in his ‘com­pound’.

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