Patient Story -

Four-year-old airlifted with paralysis from tick

Karen Drew’s four-year-old daughter woke up one morning, paralyzed from the chest down.

“We had no idea what had happened, she just woke up and couldn’t sit up or move her legs. It was absolutely terrifying,” she said.

“The previous day she had complained of a headache and was a bit unsteady on her feet. She’s usually a bit of a drama queen so we thought she was just putting it on.”

But after her sudden paralysis, Karen knew something was seriously wrong rushed Michaela to Lismore Base Hospital, the closest hospital to their Goonelabah home.

“When we got to the hospital we still had no idea what was happening, and the worst was rushing through our minds. The doctors examined her, and that’s when they found a tick on her head,” she said.

“We think she must have got it a day earlier when she went to a birthday party at a friend’s farm.

“We thought it would be just a matter of pulling the tick out and giving her some anti-venom but since she was paralyzed, her lungs - which are also a muscle - were paralyzed too and she couldn’t breathe on her own.

“She was immediately ventilated and then we were told she would have to be airlifted to the Mater Hospital in Brisbane for specialist treatment.

“After all we’d been through and seeing how serious the situation was, we were freaked out.

“But when CareFlight arrived, we met the doctor and paramedic on board and they reassured us that our daughter was in good hands. It’s quite daunting to leave your child in the hands of someone else, especially when she’s ventilated and very sick.

“But they rang us as soon as they landed to let us know that she was safe. It was a great comfort in a really distressing time.

“The flight only took about 20 minutes rather than the five or six hours it would have taken by road,” she said. “That would have made all the difference in her recovery.”

Michaela ended up spending 12 days on the ventilator at the Mater Hospital until the poison had worked its way out of her system and she could regain use of her lungs.

“It was amazing for us to have that support. The CareFlight doctor who treated Michaela also worked for the Mater Children’s Hospital so he would come over and talk to us and see how Michaela was recovering. It was a great thing for us to see that he personally cared.

“When she was finally off the ventilator she was weak and couldn’t walk without assistance. It took a long time, many months, for her to come back to her normal self.”

It’s been exactly five years since Michaela’s trip in the back of a CareFlight chopper and Karen says you’d never tell by looking at her now.

“She’s 100% back to health, she’s happy at school, she plays a lot of netball, she swims and has a very healthy social life,” she said.

So much so that when she celebrates her ninth birthday in September, she’ll be throwing a party with all her friends.

“She will conspire with her friends, as all young girls do, and plan a big party for herself,” laughed Karen.