Traditional and modern medicine unite for Corey

“Hey Dad,” were the two softly-spoken words Adrian never thought he’d hear so soon, if at all, after his 15-year-old son Corey collapsed in their Lithgow home and became partially paralysed.

The future was unknown as Corey, a Wiradjuri man, was rushed to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW) from Lithgow Hospital via Newborn and Paediatric Emergency Transport Service (NETS) and a police escort. It came after scans found he had multiple lesions in his brain.

As he lay in CHW’s Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) in a critical condition, his family feared he would never wake again let alone walk or talk. But then his journey suddenly took a turn as traditional Aboriginal healing and modern medicine came together, giving him a second chance of life.

“It was our worst nightmare. He was paralysed and couldn’t even speak, I thought this was the new normal. He was on a knife’s edge for a good week,” Adrian said.

“To coin a white fella term, what I have here now is a miracle.”

Corey was diagnosed with subdural empyema, a rare and life-threatening complication of sinus infection where pus collects in the brain and causes a deep vein thrombosis.

He underwent emergency surgery to reduce the lesions and flush out pus from the sinus, and as he recovered, Corey received around the clock care from the multidisciplinary teams in PICU and Commercial Travellers Ward.

Amongst this, Adrian asked Tanya Quinn, an Aboriginal Health Worker in Palliative Care and Chronic and Complex Needs, about the possibility of a Smoking Ceremony for the family. As a Smoking cannot be undertaken inside the Hospital, Tanya explained that she could do a Brushing Ceremony for Corey and arrange for a Smoking for the family during the week.

Her role enables her to culturally support and advocate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families who live with Palliative and Chronic and Complex conditions. She has permission from an Elder to undertake Brushing Ceremonies for her patients and their families.

“I am guided by the Spirits. I have done them for children who have already gone to Spirit as this helps release their Spirit to go on to the next part of their journey with our Spirit Ancestors safely,” Tanya said.

“I have also undertaken a Brushing Ceremony on a couple of patients who we thought could be going to Spirit, with Corey being one of them. These two patients, Corey again being one of them, had turnarounds within hours.

It helps to put their Spirit back whole because your Spirit gets broken/blocked when you’re in hospital, off country and away from Mob. This then allows your Spirit to continue taking you on the next part of your journey, whatever that may be.”

Within a few hours the monitor by Corey’s bed lit up as he began to try breath on his own again and the following morning, his doctor took him by his paralysed hand and spoke to him. Corey opened his eyes and moved his fingers the slightest little bit, and later that day Adrian heard those two wonderful words.

Three days later, Corey was well enough to be moved to Commercial Travellers Ward. Tanya then arranged for a local Dharug elder, Chris Tobin, to come to the Hospital to perform a smoking ceremony in the Aboriginal Children’s Memorial Garden for the family – including Corey and his brother Jacob who had been in Nepean Hospital through this entire time with a shattered ankle, heel and wrists from an accident.

Following the smoking ceremony, Corey improved again and no longer had spikes in temperature.

In this modern world, I believe that Traditional Healing can’t always work on its own because a lot of the illnesses now are modern illnesses, but there is definitely  a place, I believe, for Traditional Healing and modern medicine to work together. Then when we saw the changes within the hours of brushing and then smoking, the proof is in the pudding,” Tanya said.

“As much as I know what our Spirits can do, I’m only a vessel to assist them and every time I am in awe of what the spirits, ancestors, and Mother Earth can do.”

This cultural support not only made a world of difference to Corey’s healing journey, but also to his family as it helped ease the confronting experience and anxieties of having a child in hospital.

“Coming in here, we were terrified. It was traumatic because we have a history of the Stolen Generation and when I’ve had family who have had any decent stay in hospital, they didn’t come out. It’s all in there,” Adrian said.

It is so good to have someone like Tanya who is a bridge between the hospital and your mob, having someone you can lean on. She stands there like a sister and that’s what she is – she is my sister. It’s mob looking out for mob.”

Following extensive rehabilitation with Kids Rehab, Corey has since gone home and is now walking independently with aids. So far, Adrian said his son has smashed every goal placed in front of him and is hopeful he’ll continue to do so on his recovery journey.

“He doesn’t just push it a little bit, he smashes it. We never expected him to talk. We never expected him to walk. So, I think he’ll make a full recovery because he is so young and determined,” Adrian said.

Corey will return to the Hospital in the coming months for a cranioplasty, with a patient-specific implant currently being made in the United States to reconstruct the surgical site.

Adrian and the family are forever grateful for the support of Tanya, the Neurosurgical team, the Ears, Nose and Throat team, the staff of PICU and Commercial Travellers ward, NETS, as well as Ronald McDonald House.