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

The Cobram Courier - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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