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Our journey to recovery
You probably heard about the horror crash that occurred right before Christmas 2017, resulting in four people injured, including a 13-year-old boy who was airlifted to hospital.
But what happens after the news cycle has passed and the wreckage is cleared?
Alanna Davis, the driver of the car that was hit and mum to TJ Campagna, recounts the trauma of the day as well as the aftermath.
After the wreckage
I stopped on the side of the Kings Highway, 16km outside Braidwood, at the crash site where our lives were turned upside down.
The crash that has caused a huge domino effect and left scars, deep scars, so many scars. Some will never heal.
I stood in the exact spot our car ended up. I saw the yellow spray paint outline on the road of the other car. I saw the debris and dirt to absorb the oil from our car on the side of the road. It looked like the remains of a camp fire.
My mind was hurled back to the moment of impact.
I heard the bang. A really loud bang and saw the flash of silver as we hit the silver SUV that crossed into our path. The loudest bang I’ve ever heard. I felt Christina’s hand as we reached for each other. I saw TJ’s pale, ghostly face as I turned to him.
I heard the voice of the operator when I called 000. It was a young man. Send everyone I said. I looked up the road and saw the stopped cars. I saw a white vehicle. And I saw a red one.
I experienced it all over again. The same temperature, the sick feeling in my tummy and I felt the blood running down my arms. Then the tears down my cheeks. The piece of glass wedged in my arm and digging into my armpit.
I heard TJ’s cries for help. But I could do not a thing. I could only tell him everything would be ok. I heard Christina’s voice. I heard her pain. I felt the grip of her hand. She kept saying “My leg is detached”. I still hear her. I looked down and saw her very broken leg. It’s hanging on, but it’s broken.
I felt the pain in my neck as I turned to see TJ. I felt the pain of not being able to touch him. I’ve never experienced pain like that. To see him and hear him but not be able to do anything, not even comfort him or touch him. All I could do was ask every single person that came to my window to support him. To hold him. To comfort him.
I couldn’t breathe. I heard my voice begging for my seatbelt to be cut. God, please get it off me. I can’t breathe. I’m starting to panic now. Then I felt the release. The tall man with a hat had cut my belt. Then Christina’s and finally TJ’s.
Where is our help? It’s so hot. Where are the paramedics to help Christina and TJ? Where are the Police? I want to get out of this car. Now. But I can’t move. The steering wheel is right up in my face.
I remember a young lady standing there. She was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. She told someone she was a student nurse. I told her to go to TJ.
I can’t remember when help arrived. But I know the fire crew was first. Then the first paramedic arrived at our car. His name was Nathan. Nathan was amazing. He came to my window and I quickly told him I was fine. I’m fine, go to my son. I heard the student nurse talk to the paramedic about her concern for TJ, thinking I couldn’t hear her.
Now I remember Christina receiving the green whistle. I heard me telling her to suck on the whistle, I so desperately wanted her to suck on that whistle. What was wrong with TJ? Nobody was telling me anything. We get numbers strapped to our arms. I’m three. Christina is two and TJ is one.
I saw the Policeman who I demanded arrest that person in the white car because they caused this. I pointed to the car. I told him twice.
Then I remember a fireman telling me I’ll hear a loud noise. He cut my door off. But I was still stuck. He pushed down on the lever and asked me to push the chair back. I did it. But boy, did my knee hurt. I felt the dryness in my mouth. I heard the crackling of me walking over broken glass. I stood for only a few seconds before my knee said no more. I remember seeing all the ambulances and fire trucks and people. People everywhere! The fire crew brought a gurney, put me on it and rolled me away. I was left waiting by an ambulance.
I remember telling every person in uniform not to take my son without me. I needed to stay with him. Then a fireman was standing with me. I now realise to keep me calm. I don’t remember his name. He used to be a photographer and live in Singapore. He was a lovely man and kept me chatting. Then he put earmuffs on me and told me to close my eyes.
I heard and felt the helicopter all over again as it landed behind me out of sight. Then my husband arrived. He kissed me and then left me. He came back to tell me TJ was in the helicopter and was being airlifted to Canberra Hospital. No, I told him. I need to go with him. I was instructed to stay here while my son went straight away. I told my husband to leave and just meet me at hospital.
I saw the roof and dark windows of the ambulance as we took off for Canberra Hospital. Christina was in another ambulance and we were driving in convoy. I saw my paramedic’s face. I saw him typing as I gave him TJ, Christina and my details.
I saw the white ceiling and lights of the hospital. I heard the voice of my doctors and nurses. Yes, you can cut my clothes off. Where is my son?
If you’re going to scrub the glass out of my arm with that hard painful looking sponge, I will need good drugs. The young male doctor kept telling me the procedure. Oh, for heaven’s sake, I didn’t care. It was going to hurt, give me my drugs and get on with it I told him. It was a blur after the morphine.
Scans and x-rays. So many of them, my hip, my chest, my knee, my foot and my clavicle. I had stuff injected which made me feel like I wet myself. Despite me assuring the guy I had indeed wet myself, he promised me I had not. Apparently whatever was injected gives you that sensation. I can now confirm I did not wet myself.
I remember so many people coming in and out of my cubicle. I remember some lady, rushing in like she was the queen. Don’t remember what she said as I’m pretty sure I was still heavily drugged. Later, I asked my doctor what was happening with my son. She went to find out.
Then I remember two Policemen were at my bedside. The female driver had been arrested and charged.
Then I was in a ward meeting two nurses, a female and a male named Carl. I liked Carl, he was nice.
The next day I went to see TJ in ICU. He was in the adults ICU. My husband took me there in a wheelchair. I could stand only for a few minutes at a time. I stood there watching my baby boy. So damaged. So bruised and swollen. I touched him. He still felt like my baby boy. I could see his heart pumping like I’d never seen it before. It was working so hard. There were cords and machines and lights and cords, everywhere. I remember his nurse telling me what was going on, but I don’t think I took it in at that stage. I shed a tear or two for my baby. He was asleep. I kissed his beautiful, but sweaty face goodbye as my energy levels hit urgently low.
I slept again in my cubicle. I had new nurses. There were two new roommates for me now, a full room. All that day people were in and out of my cubicle.
My husband wheeled me up to see TJ again twice that day. I cried each time. How could my fit, healthy and beautiful boy look so ill? Be so ill?
What could I do from my hospital bed to help my baby feel better? The only thing I had any experience in was starting a social media campaign.
My boy loves his footy and he only ever wears footy jumpers. The #Footy4TJ campaign was born and I started with my friends. It sort of took off after that with many high profile people taking part by wearing a footy jersey and posting it with the hashtag #Footy4TJ. The Brumbies, Raiders, Christian Lealiifano, Kristen Henry, Kirsty Webeck, Tim Mannah and Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry amongst those showing their support.
We ended up with over 100 different posts, mostly from our Canberra community. I remember having tears in my eyes to see just how many people were showing support for my little boy. People he’d never met. There were two messages that really stood out to me. The first being from his pre-crash personal trainer about putting his mind to it and the second was from a Rugby coach who coaches against my son.
The next day I remember meeting two kick-ass female police officers who took my statement about what had happened. They updated me on what was likely to happen and the process.
I was discharged from hospital and went straight to my boy, but this time he was out of ICU. He was on the paediatrics high care ward. Still lots of cords, machines and lights. They were everywhere. He was still swollen and sweaty. His heart pumping so hard.
The next day I visited him again and took him to surgery. It’s probably something I shouldn’t have done. It was a long walk and a reasonable wait while standing for a person who had just been in a car crash. But like all true mothers do, we push through. He was talkative while waiting. Very positive and upbeat and he wanted to know all about the woman who caused the crash. I watched as the mask was lowered over his face and he counted down to eight. Then he was out.
I went straight back to emergency for my neck pain. It was terribly painful. I was screaming out in pain. I’d chewed through almost half a packet of Endone over the past 24 hours. I was suffering a pretty bad case of whiplash and given some different medication. I remember my treating doctor telling me to stop taking Endone. If looks could kill, he may have died because there was no way I was giving up the few moments of release the Endone was giving me. Within thirty minutes of the new medication being in my tummy, I quickly remembered why we have doctors, because they know a lot more than I! My pain was much lower.
The next 24 hours are a bit of a blank for me. I don’t remember leaving hospital, but I did because when I came back, TJ was back in ICU. His lung collapsed overnight, so he was rushed into surgery. He was in a different bed in ICU this time. He had two men in his pod. The fourth bed was vacant, for now.
His little body was still so swollen. And sweaty. I’ll never forget how sweaty he always seemed to be. He had a drain in his lower abdomen and in his lung plus his stoma bag and a catheter. He had multiple cords connected to his little body, to his neck, just everywhere. And everything that came out of him was measured. He had his button to press for pain relief. He preferred to sit sort of on an angle, it helped his ribs and abdomen.
For the brief moments he was awake I remember just holding his hand, stroking his forehead and wiping down his sweat. I can still smell his sweaty hair as I kissed him. Still so many cords and machines and a lot of beeping. ICU is a busy place. The staff in that ward work so hard. It’s not just doctors, but nurses and wardsmen. They work 24/7 with our most vulnerable members of the community and they do an exceptional job.
TJ was adamant he would be out of hospital by Christmas. We had the task of preparing him for the likely reality that he would not be. It was heartbreaking to tell your 13-year old that he would be spending Christmas in ICU.
After spending two nights in hospital and another two nights at home to rest and catch up on sleep, I spent 23 December in ICU with TJ. I “slept” in a recliner next to his bed. I woke each time a beep changed frequency or pitch. Each time TJ woke in pain or needed to be moved.
The #Footy4TJ campaign continued and TJ enjoyed seeing all the photos from people he knew and those he didn’t. It gave him something to focus on.
By Christmas Eve he was a little more coherent, but remained in significant pain and relied heavily on his PCA. I remember spending my Christmas Eve by his bedside watching him as he slept. I got no sleep, but that was ok. I just wanted to watch him, to see his chest rise up and then down. I could see his heart pumping through his swollen body. I could hear the beeps of his machines, those beeps would eventually lull me into a light doze until early morning when a change of shift would increase the numbers and commotion on the ward.
First thing Christmas morning Raiders Coach Ricky Stuart visited him in ICU. This is something TJ and our family will never forget (although TJ does have some memory loss of his time in ICU).
Santa visited TJ in ICU a number of times bringing him gifts and smiles. His family was in and out that day.
Just after Christmas, he was moved out of ICU and back to the paediatrics high care ward for the next five nights. His physio continued and each day he walked further, increased his pace and stayed standing for longer. He started showering. Food wasn’t happening yet, his eyes remained a lot bigger than his belly.
The hospital staff began to worry about depression setting in, but nothing a few special friends couldn’t help with. Canberra Hospital welcomed TJ’s cavoodle Alfie for a special visit. A moment both TJ and Alfie had waited a long time for and were excited to have! I will never forget the smile Alfie brought to TJ’s face, it was so special.
His family and friends continued to visit him daily. As did special visitors in Raiders pair Sam Williams and Jack Wighton and Brumbies prop Ben Alexander.
Come New Years Eve TJ is moved to the Paediatrics Adolescents Ward. It’s just another night for us as we spend it watching the Big Bash before dozing off before midnight. Then just on midnight I’m woken by the nurse carefully giving TJ his antibiotics and some more pain relief. TJ stirs enough to take his pills and then back to sleep.
Each day we write his goals on his whiteboard and each day he works really hard to achieve them. I’m so proud of his dedication and determination.
8 January is the date he was discharged and I remember that feeling as I helped him dress in normal clothes and watched him as he walked out the front door. It was a beautiful feeling, like freedom. But it was freedom from cords and tests and poking and prodding. It wasn’t freedom from the staff, because that wasn’t our relationship. They were helping him to heal, they created a place of healing. He will miss the staff. From time to time TJ goes back to hospital, just to see the nurses and walk the corridors of the place that saved his life.”
Two weeks ago, Alanna went back to the Kings Highway at the site of her crash.
And there it was, sitting by itself. Thrown away. As the cars sped past. Discarded like another piece of rubbish. The buckle to TJ’s seatbelt. The piece of the car I owe my son’s life to. This piece of metal and plastic will always remain very dear to me.
What can you do to help?
Right now our biggest need is cash. It has taken a long time for the insurance company to start providing support and even then, it doesn’t cover everything. The biggest expense has been unpaid carers leave for me while I’ve needed a month off to care for TJ.
Many of the non-medical expenses such as entertainment for a usually active 13-year-old boy who is forced to sit at home all summer holidays isn’t covered. Things to help him feel comfortable such as room and body sprays. The significant increase in water charges due to the constant washing of sheets and towels and the many more showers TJ has each day as a result of his stoma. None of this is covered. None of this is our fault, yet like most crimes, the victims are the ones that suffer the most.
We would be really grateful if the community would support our GoFundMe Page, even if for only a small amount. We will be most transparent with how the money is used and are happy to give a breakdown of how we use it.
We intend to use that money to:
1. Pay for any necessary expenses the insurance won’t cover, such as increased water usage.
2. Pay for any entertainment expenses incurred outside of regular 13-year-old entertainment expenses.
3. Half my uncovered carers leave.
4. Any balance will be donated to the Canberra Hospital Foundation in TJ’s name.
Finally, a huge thank you to the entire team at Canberra Hospital for everything you’ve given us. We will be forever in your debt.
Thank you to the Canberra community for your never-ending support, love and help. Canberra rocks!