Donna and Terry Saunders (far left) are supported by family and friends outside the Rockhampton courthouse where son Ryan’s inquest is being heard.
Donna and Terry Saunders (far left) are supported by family and friends outside the Rockhampton courthouse where son Ryan’s inquest is being heard.

"Our hearts are breaking"

DESPITE the never-ending heartache of losing their two-year-old son Ryan, Donna and Terry Saunders have reason to hope again.

Four years ago, when they were told Ryan was being airlifted to the Rockhampton Base Hospital to get the urgent medical attention he needed, they also had hope.

But when they were left alone with Ryan writhing and moaning in continual pain on the paediatric ward on September 24, 2007, all they felt was despair.

"You would think that when your son, who you know is in pain because you are a parent... that doctors at a bigger hospital would provide better care," Mrs Saunders said after yesterday's coronial inquest hearing in Rockhampton.

"When we were told Ryan was being taken to Rockhampton, we just assumed he'd get the care he needed."

Two days of emotional testimony, often hearing phrases of "I don't remember"and "I don't recall" from medical staff have dragged painfully to the surface the series of events that tragically ended in Ryan's death.

But Mr and Mrs Saunders, surrounded by family in the public gallery in the courtroom, have said it will all be worth it "if another child doesn't go through the same thing".

"If all this means another family doesn't go through what we've been through, then Ryan's death won't have been for nothing," Ryan's uncle Grant Merkin said.

"He's dead. We can't bring him back, but if he can prevent something like this from happening again..."

Explosive testimony has been heard in the courtroom, and the Saunders' have sat stoically throughout the proceedings, waiting for the court to scrutinise the 21 recommendations, which is scheduled for today's proceedings.

It has been heard that some, but not all, of those recommendations have been implemented, but to Ryan's family, not enough has been done.

The Saunders said they were offended by the suggestion from Dr Peter Roper, the head of paediatrics at the Rockhampton Base Hospital, they didn't want more tests done on their son.

"Of course we wanted tests done, that's why we were at the hospital," Mrs Saunders said.

"Why else do you see a doctor?"

Why Ryan was deprived of morphine for hours despite constant crying heard throughout the pediatric ward, is another issue the inquest has focused on.

"As a parent, you know when your child is in pain. You know them, better than a doctor who sees them for a small amount of time," Mrs Saunders said.

"Anyone could have seen Ryan was in agony, he wasn't trying to hide it, we knew it and the staff apparently knew it, but still nothing was done.

"It's disgraceful what happened."

Terry Merkin, Ryan's grandfather and a Vietnam war veteran, said he had seen better care on the battlefield than what was given to his grandson at the hospital. He said the comparison may seem extreme, but for a family that has lived through the tragedy and had the painful memories dredged up once again, "it is justified".

But every afternoon, Mr Merkin sits down and has a drink with the grandson he never got a chance to see grow up.

"I've got a stubbie cooler with his picture on it, so he's never far away," he said.

A key chain with Ryan playing in a sandpit hangs on his keys, and those of the family.

From Ryan's death has sprung another ray of light - The Ryan Saunders Foundation - which aims to raise awareness and provide families with an information hub.

Mrs Saunders and family friend Kylee Matthews, who is also the foundation director, said they hope that by making Ryan the face of the institution, he would remain "real, and not become a statistic".

"To us he is a person, and he always will be," Mrs Saunders said.

"He is not a statistic, he was, and still is, my son and that is something I will never let anyone forget," Mr Saunders added.

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