Elena's fighting spirit

After dropping her two-year-old twin daughters Annabelle and Elena to daycare one morning in June 2021, Tingting received a phone call no parent expects – Elena had experienced a seizure.

Elena was rushed to St George Hospital, where she was monitored overnight. Then, just before her planned discharge the following afternoon, it happened again.

A CT scan revealed a bleed to her brain, and she was urgently transferred by The Newborn & Paediatric Emergency Transport Service (NETS) NSW to Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick (SCH) for life-saving surgery. Just three hours later, Neurosurgeon, Dr. Jacob Fairhall and his team, had removed the blood clot pressing on Elena’s brain but the clot had caused significant damage.

“It was the longest three hours of our lives. Dr. Fairhall came out of the surgery and told us that while he was able to remove all the clots, Elena had undiagnosed congenital extra vessels in her brain, and the size of the clot had caused global damage to her brain, significantly limiting her chance of survival,” Tingting said.

“My husband, Mark, and I burst into tears, but we stayed hopeful. Our social worker’s advice to us was to live minute by minute, and that’s what we did. Each minute Elena survived was a small win for us.”

Elena survived the night, and then began her eight-week journey in the Children’s Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at SCH, before being woken up from the medically induced coma and extubated.

The brain damage Elena sustained is irreversible and impacts her movement, vision, speech, memory and ability to eat, but through extensive rehabilitation, and a lot of sheer determination, she has come miles in her recovery.

“Her recovery journey has been long and is ongoing, but Elena has improved tremendously, driven by her determined personality and bright spirit,” Tingting said.

“Every day I saw her getting slightly stronger, and those little bits of progress rejuvenated my daily motivation. With the support of the amazing neurology and rehab teams, she worked towards better core control, sitting, sit to stand and rolling, each day progressing towards discharge.”

Almost six months on from her initial seizure, Elena was discharged from hospital, welcomed home by her parents, twin sister Annabelle and older brother Charlie.

“We are eternally grateful for the help and support we received at Sydney Children’s Hospital. Not only did they save Elena’s life, but the ICU staff, the allied health and rehab teams, the nursing staff on C2 South and the social workers were so supportive and present in every step of the recovery, rehab and discharge journey. We can only describe them as the only light during the darkest time in our lives,” Tingting said.

Testament to her incredible resilience and determination in her recovery, Elena, now four years old, was recently recognised as a finalist for a 2023 Stroke Warrior award from the Stroke Foundation at a ceremony held in Melbourne that she attended with her family by her side.

The awards recognise and celebrate the contributions of incredible survivors, carers, healthcare workers and volunteers who go above and beyond to make life better for Australians impacted by stroke.

“Seeing Elena go through this whole ordeal, and how far she’s come through her willpower and resilience, we feel she is incredibly deserving of the warrior title and we couldn’t be more proud of her nomination for the award.”

With the toughest days now behind them, Tingting and Mark are focused on making the most of every day with their children. They love weekend bushwalks, taking Elena to dance class and were even able to go on a family trip to Bali last month.

Tingting is also now mentoring other families going through a similar experience.

“Through this journey, Elena has taught me not only about her incredible resilience but about the hidden strengths inside every one of us and I want to use that to help other people."

“Accepting help, especially the types that makes you feel that you’re not alone in this fight, made such a difference to me, and if my help could even make the slightest difference in someone’s life, maybe serving as the initial uplift, that would be amazing."