THE region's worst flu season in years was almost fatal for Gympie Turf Club president Shane "Gilly" Gill this week, when a flesh eating secondary infection came within hours of killing him.
As Queensland hospitals and doctors' surgeries continue to labour under the strain of the flu epidemic, Mr Gill will spend the next six weeks in a Brisbane hospital recovering from emergency open heart surgery and a staphylococcus aureus infection that attacked his heart.
Mr Gill was meant to be looking forward to a joint 50th birthday party with his long-time partner Cherie Carlson at their Mooloo property this Saturday night; instead he is lucky to be alive.
The staph entered his bloodstream while he was fighting off Influenza A, and settled in his heart, eating away the aortic valve and causing a "torrential leak" which meant no blood was getting pumped out into his body.
In then attached itself to his heart wall, where an abscess formed and proceeded to eat away the wall. Mr Gill was in rapidly worsening heart failure when he was rushed into life-saving surgery at the Holy Spirit on his 50th birthday on Tuesday.
While showing very good signs of improvement and recovery, he is not out of the woods yet.
"The surgeon patched and repaired his heart wall with cow pericardium and fitted a new mechanical aorta valve," his partner Ms Carlson said yesterday.
"He will need to remain on intravenous antibiotics for six weeks to kill the staph infection. So once he has recovered from the heart surgery he will still need to remain in hospital for the staph treatment.
"I have passed on to Shane everyone's birthday wishes and messages for a speedy recovery.
"We are both overwhelmed but forever grateful and blessed by the love, prayers and support shown to Shane and myself in this difficult and stressful time.
"Please keep Shane in your thoughts as he has a long road ahead. Life for Shane will be a little different than what he knows from here on."
Below, in Ms Carlson's words, is the timeline of events from when Mr Gill first came down with his flu symptoms almost two weeks ago:
Shane woke up Saturday, August 19, the morning of the Gympie Turf Club's biggest race day of the year, Nolan's Muster Cup, saying he felt a bit off colour - funny feeling throat and like he'd been hit by a bus. He went off to the Turf Club early to finish final set up for the day.
He came home at 10am much earlier than normal and said 'I really don't feel well I think I'll have a lie down for half an hour before I have a shower and head back in to Turf Club'.
I dropped him into the races and then went back in at 7pm to help him close up the bar and lock up.
By this time Shane looked very unwell and by the time we got home he had uncontrollable shivers and a raging headache.
He got up Sunday morning to finalise a few Turf Club things before heading back into Turf Club to see the treasure. He was worse and came home and went straight to bed where he remained until I took him to his GP on Monday and he continued to deteriorate so I took him back to GP on Thursday morning.
By Thursday evening Shane was showing signs of deliriousness and in complete stress.
"I phoned an ambulance and he was transported to the Gympie emergency ward. Here they started numerous tests as to why he was so unwell and deteriorating so fast.
It was here on Friday night we were told he had staph in his bloodstream and a heart murmur had been detected.
They took a swab for influenza A but it takes a day for the results to come back. (When Shane entered hospital he was out into an isolation situation as a precaution for not knowing what was wrong - very stressful as everyone had to wear masks gloves and gowns to be in room with him). On Saturday morning Shane had more testing and CT scans and the doctor had taken me aside to say he was seriously unwell and need to be transferred to the Sunshine Coast hospital for specialist care.
I was also told that he would probably then be heading to Brisbane as it was inevitable he would need surgery.
They thought the staph was in his heart but were letting Sunny Coast do more tests before confirming. So Saturday lunchtime he was transferred via ambulance to Sunshine Coast University Hospital.
Upon arrival there we were told he had tested positive to influenza A and would be staying in a isolation room. (Again all people in room had to wear masks etc)
On Sunday morning Shane and I were told he needed transferring to the Holy Spirit for further specialist care and open heart surgery.
At this stage we were told the cold hard truths of what lay ahead.
We were told the aorta valve was severely damaged, causing a major leak. So Sunday night he was transported to Holy Spirit via ambulance. Monday morning they did two echo ultrasounds on his heart. We were told he required surgery sooner than later but the doctors were hoping he would hold up til Wednesday to allow the antibiotic to work its magic on the staph a little more.
But that was not to be - he required life saving surgery on Tuesday (his 50th birthday). So Tuesday came and an anxious day for all concerned.
Tuesday evening late the surgeon came to see me and said Shane's op went well but more had to be done than expected. (Aorta valve causing a 'torrential' leak and that the staph had also attached to the wall causing an abscess).
Shane had an influenza swab taken Monday 4pm that came back at 4pm Tuesday that he was finally negative to influenza A.
Moments before his surgery. This was one relief as it meant the flu symptoms were almost gone. (Very horrible not being able to comfort Shane and kiss him as I had gloves mask and gown on - no skin to skin contact).
Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service physician Dr Andrew Langley said we were now at the peak of the influenza season but it is not a time to be complacent.
For the SCHHS area, which includes the Gympie, 2277 cases of influenza have been notified to Queensland Health this year (to August 28). This is only the people who see a doctor and are tested. Most of this year's cases have occurred in August. There have been 155 admissions to public hospitals of people with influenza in the SCHHS area (as at August 27).
For the SCHHS region overall and each council area, cases reported this year are about 2.5 times higher than the average at this time of year for the past five years.
Statewide, there have been 29,996 cases of laboratory-confirmed influenza, with 3225 admissions to public hospitals including 353 to intensive care (as at August 27).
Of the 29,996 cases, 74% were for influenza type A and 26% were for type B. Most of the type A specimens that have been subtyped are for type A/H3N2. Seasons in which subtype A/H3N2 predominate have been associated with more common severe outcomes in older people.
Nationally, there have been at least 52 deaths directly linked to influenza this year (as at August 18). This figure is unlikely to include all influenza-related deaths, as it is reliant on the follow-up of cases to determine the outcome of their infection.
Join the fight against flu with the following five strategies:
Get vaccinated - it's not too late but it takes about two weeks to provide good protection
Consider seeing a GP or calling a nurse for free on 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84), instead of going to an emergency department
Wash your hands
Stay home if you're sick
Cover your cough with a tissue or your arm
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