EVERY MILESTONE IS A MIRACLE
I think I got there (near death) a few times, if not a little bit more, so it got very close to a point where Rob was preparing my funeral
Birthdays and other milestone occasions such as Mother’s and Father’s Days pass happily and enjoyably for most of us. But for some families miracles are essential to take part in just one of them.
Strathmerton’s Sarah Hawthorn, pictured with husband Rob and son Axle, almost did not make hers because she was in hospital dying.
STEPHEN DRILL and photographer ALEX COPPEL caught up with Sarah Hawthorn and her family at the right end of an incredible 12-month journey that has taken them from the depths of despair to a world where no day is ever taken for granted
A STRATHMERTON mother, who spent more than three months in a coma after contracting the flu while eight months pregnant, has celebrated her son’s miracle first birthday.
And watched him share his first father’s day with her husband Rob.
Sarah Hawthorn, 34, said she did not think she would make it to her son Axle’s milestone. Neither did her doctors, or her family.
Her blond-haired boy was born by emergency C-section while Sarah was put in an induced coma after complications from the flu during last year’s horror season.
“It’s Axle’s birthday and it’s my anniversary, so it’s quite exciting that I’m here to celebrate with my little baby,” Sarah said. “His first birthday, I can’t believe it. It’s flown.”
When asked how close she came to death, Sarah said: “I think I got there a few times, if not a little bit more, so it got very close to a point where Rob was preparing my funeral.”
Sarah lost more than 80 per cent of her muscle mass while in a coma, and her lung function dropped down to 25 per cent. Doctors told her it would take years to get back to normal, but Sarah has continually defied their predictions.
Husband Rob, 38, was told for every week of the 10 weeks Sarah spent in intensive care, she would spend four weeks on a recovery ward.
But she was home four days before Christmas, even though it was in a wheelchair. There are still some complications. ‘‘I can’t get down on the ground, I need to use the couch to get down on the ground to play with Axle,’’ she said.
Hawthorn and Essendon football club scarfs hang on the living-room door. Rob was quick to sign up the young fella to a Hawks membership before Sarah could sway him with her love of the Bombers. The couple is moving on with life, and two weeks ago, bought an extra parcel of land nearby as they expand their operations. Those types of plans had been on hold while Rob set up a makeshift home at a Quest apartment near The Alfred hospital in Prahran.
‘‘The girls there know me pretty well now,’’ he said.
Sarah first complained of feeling sick when she was at a regular check-up. Busy with work and the advancing pregnancy, she had not had a flu shot.
‘‘The first day I was sick was a Tuesday and I was there for my ultrasound, I wasn’t feeling overly unwell,’’ she said.
During the coming days, Sarah became worse, and was struggling to breathe by Saturday. Her breath was so short it was like she was panting as she desperately tried to get air in her lungs.
Rob took her to the Yarrawonga hospital because it had some maternity services.
‘‘They said there was no doctor there and to go to the local doctor. The doctor gave Sarah an asthma puffer and a prescription for Panadeine Forte — she was really out of breath and that made no difference,’’ Rob said.
‘‘I had a very long phone call with that doctor about a week in.’’
Sarah rested on the couch, but her breathing became worse again.
At 6 pm on the following Monday, Rob put his heavily pregnant wife in the car to drive to the Cobram hospital.
Doctors there realised how ill Sarah was, and a team of four ambulances took her to the Wangaratta hospital.
By midnight, she was in an induced coma, and at 4.36 am on August 29, Axle was born by emergency caesarean section — five weeks early.
Rob saw him as he was wheeled away for care. Sarah had no idea she had a son.
A team of doctors worked throughout the day to get Sarah stable enough to be transferred to Melbourne.
An air ambulance flew her to The Alfred, and the nightmare of the next few months began.
Rob cannot remember how many times the hospital called him warning she might not have long left and that he needed urgently to visit.
Her condition would switch from stable to critical and back to stable.
After six weeks in hospital, Sarah was put on an ECMO machine, a form of life support that does the work of the heart and lungs when they are failing.
Rob was torn between visiting Sarah at The Alfred and Axle, who was still receiving care in Wangaratta.
Nurses at the Wangaratta hospital sent him photographs and updates on Axle, as often as every three hours. Rob left his clothes there so that Axle would get used to his smell.
Axle was allowed to visit Sarah in intensive care when he was six weeks old. A photograph was taken of the moment because they thought it would be the only time he would see his mother alive.
‘‘Every day was a different scenario, she was a little better and then a lot worse,’’ Rob said.
But somehow Sarah began to improve.
Doctors would reduce her medication to see if she was getting better and her eyes would open, leaving family thinking she was awake.
It took a week of going in and out of consciousness for her to finally wake up.
‘‘The last time they tried to wake me — it was a period of a week it took me to wake. There was a vent above my bed, so I’d just see that every time I woke up,’’ Sarah said.
‘‘I’d always think when I’d wake up I was in Cobram hospital, and then I’d think I was in Wangaratta hospital, and I would replace the nurses with common faces that are in my life.
‘‘It was really strange and then Rob would say to me, ‘Sarah, you’re in hospital, you’re in Melbourne at The Alfred hospital, and you’re in good hands’ — every time I woke up. ‘‘It was like Groundhog Day.’’ Father’s Day this year was also different for Rob. Last year, he had visited Axle in the Wangaratta hospital and returned back to his farm at 2 am. He had a shower and was about to go to bed.
But 20 minutes after he arrived home, another call from the hospital came, and he had to make the three-hour drive to Melbourne to see Sarah.
This year, the family has gone on holiday to the Gold Coast — but only after dropping into The Alfred to help out with its Father’s Day fundraiser, thankfully this time without Sarah being a patient.
ABOVE — Sarah, Ron and their miracle son Axle, who turned one last week and then celebrated his first Father’s Day with mum Sarah watching on.
LEFT — A little boy and his mate. Axle has taken to life on the farm and his mother Sarah is making up for all the early moments she missed with her baby as she lay in an induced coma and fighting for her life.