Taranaki cooperation saves life

“If it wasn’t for the Rescue Helicopter, I don’t think I’d be talking about this today,” says Ann Murgatroyd when she recalls her husband Phillip’s stroke earlier this year.

Phillip and Ann are regular visitors to the region from the UK, trying to come at least once a year to see their daughter and grandson in New Plymouth.

During their recent visit husband Phillip started to feel off, the normally active 72-year-old was used to entertaining their 9-year-old grandson especially during lockdown, but in April this year things took a turn.

“Phil went for a lay down to have a rest after returning from a beach walk and cycling with our grandson during lockdown. But shortly after at dinner he just started talking nonsense, with his mouth dropping to one side,” explains Ann.

Thinking FAST the family called 111 and explained the situation, by that stage Phil had come around with little recollection of what had happened.

He was assessed by the paramedics and admitted to Taranaki Base Hospital and CT scan revealed that he had two significant blood clots, one side of head and one in an artery in his neck. He had lost feeling down his right-hand side could barely talk.

The family spoke to surgeon consultant and it was concluded that Phillip would need to be transferred by helicopter to Auckland for specialist treatment.

Phillip was flown to Auckland Hospital and within four hours of his turn at home was rushed into the operating theatre for Endovascular Clot Retrieval surgery.

Endovascular Clot Retrieval is a time critical treatment and is only available in Auckland. The treatment removes or ‘sucks’ the blood clot from the brain, allowing blood to flow to the previously blocked area. For each minute a clot blocks blood flow, 2 million brain cells are lost.

“The stroke pathway in New Plymouth led by Dr Bhavesh Lallu and his innovative team is truly worlds apart. Very few countries are able to achieve this kind of result with stroke patients adding additional quality years to people’s lives. New Zealand should be very proud of this achievement,” says Rescue Helicopter Pilot & Base Manager Fergus McLachlan.

“To ensure patients like Phillip are able to receive this treatment, we communicate with a specialist team in Auckland while we’re in the air,” adds paramedic Heath Gillot, “This means patients can proceed directly to the specialists on arrival are ready to complete a final patient assessment and proceed with treatment. They’ve already reviewed the results of the CT scan because of a partnership we have in Taranaki with Auckland Hospital.

Three months on from the operation his recovery has been slow with his memory and speech still affected. The fact Phillip is alive and recovering in Taranaki is testament to the coordinated efforts by several parties.

“He’s a walking miracle,” says Ann, “the teamwork and coordination between St John Ambulance, the hospitals and the Rescue Helicopter all contributed to the life-saving response.”

Phillip and Ann visited the hangar recently, where they were reunited with some of the crew and medical staff who were part of the mission and even made a much appreciated donation towards the Trust.

“We can’t thank the team enough. It was lovely to spend some time at the hangar and talk to the crew on duty,” says Ann. He takes each day as it comes but having been so active in the past does not always appreciate the time required for the healing process following such a significant event.

“He probably does too much, but that fighting spirit and stubbornness also helped keep him with us. The whole journey has been remarkable, and we can’t thank the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter and their partners enough.”

Phillip continues his recovery in New Plymouth before he and Ann are scheduled return home in September.

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