Mermaid Beach Radiology is fast becoming known as the place of last resort, for people who feel like they aren’t getting answers in the public system. Gold Coast mother Kay* tells us her desperate, exasperating story about saving her son’s life in the nick of time.
I knew my son, Brad* was really sick and he was in trouble. I went to one public hospital two times, then a different public hospital two more times, and we were turned away four times in total. Nobody took it seriously. I actually broke down to one of the doctors the third time and I begged them, BEGGED THEM to please do some tests. I pleaded with them to just find out what was wrong with my son. I feel like they didn’t even look at him. They just kept poking at him just poking at his stomach. And I kept saying, he’s extremely sick.
I know him. We’ve lived on the Gold Coast for over five years, and he never once went to the doctor in all that time. I kept saying, this is completely out of character. He’s extremely sick. He’d been vomiting for two and a half days continuously and couldn’t keep anything down. He didn’t have a fever. But he was in agony. My son was actually screaming, begging me to help him. Imagine that as a parent. And to see this tough little kid that is never unwell, actually begging for mercy from the pain? It was hideous.
I can’t understand or explain why they didn’t do more. Why didn’t they take it seriously? My son was so sick and they were kicking him out with a drink of Mylanta, a heartburn treatment. They gave him a heartburn treatment, meant for adults, after nine hours of waiting, and said, go home, you’ll be fine. And I thought, this is disgusting. I don’t get it.
The doctor said, he is not sick enough for the scans. After the fourth visit, I begged them to do something, so they did an ultrasound, but they said they didn’t find anything. I argued with the head doctor. I was saying, “I feel like I’m in medieval times. You have all this equipment available to you, but you won’t give my son a proper scan? What is it? Budget? Politics?”
On the fourth visit to the hospital, they just told us Brad has muscle spasms in his stomach, and to go home and wait five days. I waited a day and a half before seeking further medical advice. I ended up at the GP who could see that Brad was extremely sick and understood that the two hospitals I had been to were not taking it seriously.
So, he said that Brad needed some urgent scans, and directed me to go to Mermaid Beach Radiology. He said the radiologist there would involve himself and get me answers. The GP said, “It’s a brand-new clinic. It’s not bulk-billed, so you have to pay for it.” But I knew how sick my son was. Not everyone has spare money on hand, and I’m a solo parent but it had got to that stage where I didn’t care, I just needed him looked at. My son was dying, and I needed someone who would help me urgently.
Mermaid Beach Radiology
We immediately went to Mermaid Beach Radiology. From the moment I walked in there, they were just brilliant. A young male sonographer did his initial ultrasound. After about 30 seconds he looked at my son, shocked, and said, “Oh mate, you are so brave. I can see what’s going on here.”
The sonographer then said, “I’m just going to get my boss.” And then that’s when he brought in Dr Zane Sherif, the owner of Mermaid Beach Radiology. Straight away they could see that my son had a perforated appendix. It had ruptured. So, all the times that we were going to the hospital, he actually already had a perforated appendix. He was extremely, extremely sick. Both the sonographer and the radiologist said that it was incredibly serious, and the extent of the problem would be best understood with an MRI. Their MRI would provide the most accurate imaging available for the surgery Brad would soon need. They could see the problem within 30 seconds of using their MRI technology. But the hospital wasn’t even using the technology that was available to them. We couldn’t get further than an ultrasound, and even that failed us!
Zane organised an ambulance, but I refused to go back to the hospitals that had turned us away. So, I chose to go to Pindara Private hospital. By the time we had arrived, Zane had called the emergency department to brief them on the situation. And, he had sent all of the scans to them so that we could go straight to theatre.
Zane and his team were brilliant, the IV they put in my son at Mermaid Beach Radiology was the same one that they used in the hospital. So, they didn’t even need to give Brad more needles when he arrived at Pindara. Mermaid Beach Radiology gave him fluids because he had already been sick for eight days. They did all this while I was making arrangements for my daughter to get home.
Brad arrived at Pindara in the ambulance and was literally in surgery before we knew it – it all happened so fast. My head was spinning. The surgeon came out and said, he’s very, very sick. His organs were actually sitting in rotten fluid, and his appendix was gangrenous.
I almost lost my 12-year-old son. It was obviously very, very close. He’s still extremely sick and he’s going to have repercussions now for the rest of his life. All because two public hospitals, wouldn’t listen, and kept sending him away. I have had no contact from any of the doctors that sent my very sick son away. I say this as he is getting treatment to get padding taken off and his drain seen to. He had a drain in him because of all of the fluids his body had accumulated.
Somebody needs to be spoken to about how our public system failed a 12-year-old boy. If I relied on the public system, I would be mourning the death of my son now. It could have been a very different alternate reality. I could have been going through a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. They need to be spoken to about revising how they look at people. Was it because of Covid? Was it because of a budget problem? Was it just because of inexperience? I don’t understand.
How could they have missed a ruptured appendix in 2021? Four times! They didn’t miss just appendicitis; they missed an appendix that had already ruptured. Everyone’s heard of appendicitis, it’s not something that’s obscure. We should have had scans the first time, even the second time…we didn’t even get them the third time! In the end, I did pay for scans from Mermaid Beach Radiology, but when you think about the small cost, versus what could have happened, it’s nothing to save your kid’s life.
A Total Rethink
The hospital system needs to seriously address how it thinks about scans. How much would the scans even have cost the hospitals? We went there four times. Think about what that must have cost them, instead of scanning Brad the first time and getting the right diagnosis. So much wasted time, it is a false economy.
Zane and his whole team were absolutely terrific. I can tell you; my son would not be here if we hadn’t have walked into that clinic. If I had have taken the hospital’s advice and gone home and waited the five days like they advised, he would have surely died. He wouldn’t have lasted even that next night.
I do have private health insurance. I’m originally from New South Wales, and they don’t cover ambulances there, whereas in Queensland they do. At the time, I did not care what it cost me, whatever extras I must pay, I just have to pay. I’m a solo parent and I’ve paid a hundred percent for my children for 11 years. I’ve done it all by myself. I should be able to rely on the public system.
I will have ongoing health expenses for Brad for the rest of his life because of the delayed diagnosis and treatment. It scares me and I don’t know what I’m going to have to do for him next. There’s going to be digestive issues, intestinal issues, all the scarring. It’s frightening. I would hate for this to happen to any other child. Very recently, it happened in Western Australia. A child died in the waiting room with a ruptured appendix while he was sitting there. He died. This shouldn’t happen. To anyone. Ever.
DR ZANE SHERIF:
A young mum arrived to see us on Friday, about two weeks ago, with her 12-year-old son. The mum was at the end of her tether and had spent every night that week in the emergency departments at different hospitals. Each time she’d been there with her son vomiting, generally unwell, and very, very sick. He was pale and gaunt, hadn’t eaten pretty much any night that week, and was complaining of horrific abdominal pain, which was relentless and not going away.
They were sent away with no investigations, except on the last visit. They had an ultrasound which failed to identify the problem. The boy was given Mylanta, for indigestion. Kids don’t usually get indigestion. Adults who drink alcohol and coffee and smoke do, though. They get ulcers and gastritis; kids virtually never do. So, it was so peculiar that they would even trial a drink of Mylanta. The following morning when they came to us, the child was clearly very unwell. The mother was understandably in obvious distress. She was desperate for answers and didn’t know where to go from there. When I went into the room, I saw mum and child. From the end of the bed, just looking at the child, I could see there was something seriously wrong. He was very, very pale, an ashen kind of colour, listless, just sitting there deathly still, not really saying or doing anything.
We did an ultrasound scan. Immediately we could see there was something horrible going on in his abdomen. Ultrasound, on a young, small child, with lots of gas in there, can be quite difficult. It’s hard to make out what is going on, but there was a clear abnormality in his right iliac fossa. We strongly suspected the child had a ruptured appendix and would need surgery, which would require as detailed imaging as possible. So, we strongly recommended an MRI scan to his mother.
We work at the bleeding edge of research and sequence development in MRI which allows us to perform scans that no other Radiology facility has clinically available. Our flagship Philips 3T Elition X research grade MRI scanner is using sequences years before they are commercially available on other machines. The MRI sequences we used on this young boy have been specifically designed for the highest accuracy and sensitivity to abdominal infection. We are constantly pushing the boundaries of this innovative MRI technology where we are translating what was once only thought of as research into clinical real-world solutions. This can rapidly and more accurately change the course of a patient’s management and life, as in this case.
Using this process, we could more confidently diagnose the ruptured gangrenous appendix and large abscess. Once we had that confirmed diagnosis, I called the hospital and spoke with the emergency department head and the on-call surgeon. The boy was rushed to hospital and went straight to theatre.
Brad will be dealing with the fallout and the scarring from this injury for the rest of his life. When that scarring happens in your abdomen, it never goes away. And you do not know if that scar can latch onto something else like your bowel, which can cause a bowel obstruction, which is a surgical emergency. So, he will have that in his rear-view mirror for the rest of his life.
It is a truly scary story. I mean, it is simply hard to believe in modern day Australia, that it is still so hard to access MRI, only the best imaging modality in modern medicine. ■
Ryan’s Rule is a protection for parents who feel like they aren’t being heard and that their child’s life is in danger. Ryan’s Rule applies to all patients admitted to any Queensland Health public hospital. Ryan’s Rule has been developed in response to the tragic death of Ryan Saunders, who died in 2007 from an undiagnosed Streptococcal infection, which led to Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Ryan’s parents knew their child better than any strangers. They were worried he was getting worse – they did not feel their concerns were acted on in time.
In light of his death, the Department of Health made a commitment to introduce a patient, family, carer escalation process (Ryan’s Rule), to minimise the possibility of a similar event occurring.
If you feel that your child’s life is in danger, and you aren’t being heard, you can invoke Ryan’s Rule. Once the rule is enacted, a nurse or doctor will undertake a Ryan’s Rule clinical review of the patient and the treatment they are receiving.
Queensland mum Ayla Gyde invoked the rule 3 years ago. “My little girl was admitted to hospital with suspected appendicitis. After speaking to the first surgical doctor, he explained this was likely the problem however he wanted a paediatrician to check her lingering cough to rule out possible Mesenteric adenitis (which is swollen lymph glands in the tummy). This was at 5.30pm Thursday. By 7am Friday I was told an ultrasound would be done that day. However, I watched my little girl deteriorate before my eyes and frustrated nurses pacing the corridors trying to find out what was happening. I had finally had enough and at 12pm l said. “I’m calling RYANS RULE NOW!”
Within 10 mins I was speaking to a different surgical doctor. By 45 mins she was getting an ultrasound done, and by two hours after calling Ryan’s Rule they were prepping my daughter for an emergency removal of her appendix as it had perforated. Turns out, the ultrasound hadn’t been ordered that morning, so we were waiting for nothing. Ryan’s Rule is a life saver.” ■
07 5619 9499
2469 Gold Coast Hwy, Mermaid Beach
To read more about Mermaid Beach Radiology, click here.
*Names have been changed to protect patient privacy