One year on, a couple thanks PDH for life-saving care

Tuesday, 6 August 2013
ONE year ago, John and Ann McFarlane first met surgeon Thair Abbas, but under vastly worse conditions. Mr McFarlane was near death from a vicious post-operative infection, and it was Mr Abbas’ surgical skills that made their reunion this week possible.

As they look back on the dramatic events of exactly one year ago, a Portland couple is eternally thankful for three things, a skilled surgeon, fog and a pink dressing gown.

It was the evening of August 1, 2012. John McFarlane, then 72, had been home for just a few days recuperating from an operation at a Melbourne hospital and things were not going well. He was in severe pain and it was hard to get to sleep.

What he did not know that night was his stay in Melbourne had left him with a nasty post-operative infection. His internal organs were producing vast quantities of fluid and without immediate treatment, he would die.

Around midnight, the pain was too much. His wife Ann knew he had to be rushed to hospital. There was no time for an ambulance so she drove him to Portland District Health herself. In their haste, all she could find for him to wear was her mother’s old pink dressing gown.

Emergency staff at PDH were quick to respond, wheeling him into the emergency room and calling in surgeon Thair Abbas, who had transferred to the hospital staff the previous year following a stint in the United Arab Emirates.

 “This man needs to be transferred by air to Melbourne for immediate surgery,” Mr Abbas concluded.

 Just one small problem – August 1st was a very foggy night in Portland and the air ambulance could not land. It would be 10am before the helicopter could arrive. Mr Abbas would have to do the complex life-saving operation himself, and right away.

 ‘I had done operations like this one before, in Iraq, but never in Australia,” Mr Abbas said later. “He was in a critical condition with a hole in his stomach and very low blood pressure.”

Meanwhile, Mrs McFarlane was pacing the halls of PDH, wracked by worry.  “The PDH staff were wonderful,” she recalled a year later. “They were very reassuring and really inspired confidence that it would all end happily.”

The operation was a success. John McFarlane survived that first crucial night and the next day was stable enough for the transfer to St Vincents Hospital in Fitzroy. There, the specialist surgeon took one look at his very sick patient and confirmed the Portland diagnosis.

“I’m certain that this patient would not have survived the flight to Melbourne last night,” the doctor said, “so he should be thankful for the fog. There’s also no question that Mr Abbas’ surgical skills saved this man’s life.”

 Mr McFarlane remained on life support at St Vincents for a further six days. After two more follow-up operations, he was ready to return home to Portland. It was a further six months before he was well enough to resume walking and other normal activities.

 “I can even eat steak again, but too much at a time,” Mr McFarlane said with a grin.

 “We are eternally grateful to Mr Abbas and the rest of the PDH staff for the care they gave John,” his wife said.

 “Telling our story on this, the one year anniversary of their life-saving efforts, was our way of letting the community know how lucky we are in Portland for this quality of care.”

The hospital said it has the capacity for an additional 400 to 500 operations each year above its current workload, perhaps preferring them without quite such life and death drama.

The couple settled here a few years ago from Hamilton, and while they also like the standard of care in their old hometown, their special appreciation is for the medical staff here.

PDH is well regarded by visiting surgeons, boasts one of the lowest infection rates of any hospital in Australia, is ranked as one of the cleanest hospitals in the nation and regularly surpasses state averages in patient satisfaction.

 Mr Thair Abbas is employed as a specialist surgeon and is supported by a number of visiting specialists, including surgeons from Warrnambool who are encouraging Portland residents to use the local facilities as their first option.

Last year PDH entered an agreement with Warrnambool Base Hospital for Warrnambool surgeons to use Portland’s theatre capacity on a fortnightly basis.

The waiting list for most surgeries at PDH is well below state averages.

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