Stroke of luck for Manjimup teen

Manjimup teenager Sam Wellington is living proof of the value of WA Health’s new streamlined process for dealing with stroke cases.

Sam Wellington
Sam Wellington

The process, which took effect last September, improves links between rural and metropolitan hospitals and gives regional residents access to life-saving neurological interventions.

Had it not been for the new process, 16-year-old stroke patient Sam would now almost certainly need round-the-clock care – if he was still alive.

But, less than a month after a damaged carotid artery and resulting blood clot stopped blood flow to the left half of his brain, Sam is back at school and getting on with life, even topping his year 11 biology class.

On April 28, Sam arrived at the Warren Health Service, confused and vomiting, having woken earlier that morning after five days of an increasingly severe headache.

Following an assessment and consultation with the Emergency Telehealth Service, he was transferred to Bunbury Hospital for further tests. It was there, around 7pm, that Sam’s condition deteriorated suddenly.

Sam’s right arm and leg became paralysed and he could no longer talk or track a moving object with his eyes.

When scans revealed a massive stroke to be the cause of Sam’s problems, WA Health’s new stroke arrangements were swung into action by Bunbury’s Emergency Department team.

Thanks to new procedures at the Royal Flying Doctor Service, within an hour and a half of Sam boarding an emergency flight to Perth, he had arrived at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital (SCGH) where members of the highly-trained Neurological Intervention and Imaging Service (NIISwa) were waiting to whisk him into theatre.

This State-wide service is staffed at SCGH 24 hours a day, seven days a week and at Fiona Stanley Hospital during business hours. It is the only continuously operating service delivering Endovascular Clot Retrieval – the kind of care Sam urgently needed – in the State and one of only two in the nation.

In the early hours of April 29, the NIISwa team – led by Interventional Neuroradiologist Dr Tim Phillips – successfully repaired Sam’s damaged artery with a stent and removed the clot. The delicate 53-minute operation restored blood flow to Sam’s brain sparing him permanent brain damage.

Sam’s parents Cheryl and David Wellington were halfway along the Forrest Highway, still racing to Perth, when they got the news.

“It was about 4am,” Cheryl recalls.

“Dr Phillips called to tell us we could take our time getting there because, his surgery was over and he was pleased with how it had gone.”

Later that day Sam would be sitting up in bed, chatting to his parents and texting friends.

“It was just unbelievable,” Cheryl says.

“I was sure he was going to come home needing full-time care.

“We were told he would need months of rehabilitation but he was discharged and allowed back home after just five days.”

The nurse who cared for Sam that day was also blown away by the outcome.

“She told us she had just had her best nursing day ever,” Cheryl recalls.

The Wellingtons have nothing but praise for the medical staff who cared for Sam during the family’s harrowing ordeal.

“We can’t thank them enough,” Cheryl said.

Although Sam was still experiencing tiredness, he had made a full recovery and was even doing a work placement with a local furniture company.

Sam loves soccer and long-distance running and is hoping to pursue a career in woodwork when he finishes school.

Sam’s stroke is thought to have stemmed from an accident five days earlier. It occurred during a weekend camping trip with friends. The boys were riding bicycles off a ramp into a dam. According to one of the friends, Sam landed awkwardly on his left side in the water but had seemed fine at the time.