It’s been 11 long weeks since the terrible accident which saw 10-month-old baby Ben Da Costa airlifted to Canberra and then to Sydney after he was run over in Merimbula by a 4WD on Saturday, March 15. Last week after so much trauma and heartache, relieved parents, Adam and Shelley Da Costa and their three daughters, Dayna, 9, Katie, 7 and Lola, 5 have returned home to Merimbula with Ben.
Seeing Ben laughing with his parents, he looks like any other little one-year-old but inside he’s had a lot of healing to do and still faces more with a large scar stretching across his body.
Adam said that the accident left Ben with multiple rib fractures in his right side, fractures to his left pelvis and femur and a collapsed lung. What no one knew until later was that there was also an extensive liver laceration and a large amount of bile and blood collecting in his abdomen after his bile duct became detached.
Shelley will never forget the dreadful day that the accident happened and seeing Ben still conscious, trying to move. She said: “It was a nightmare. I looked down at poor Ben.”
Fortunately paramedics and police were on the scene very quickly.
“I was in the ambulance with the police. I didn’t cry, maybe just a little; I think I was in shock. I just wanted to get to hospital as soon as possible,” Shelley said.
The paramedics had already called ahead and another ambulance met them half way on the journey to Bega to provide additional medical care.
Ben was flown to Canberra where he stayed overnight before being flown to Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick.
Despite his terrible injuries, Ben was conscious and Adam said: “When I heard him cry it was the thing that gave me confidence that he would make it.”
But once at Randwick it became apparent that there were some other problems. Adam said that after a couple of days Ben’s stomach was growing and getting bigger and bigger. His internal injuries meant that blood and bile was building up in his abdomen and it was a serious issue.
Adam said: “The anaesthetist said ‘This is going to be very tricky. We will do our best to bring him back.’”
Shelley said that the one and a half hour operation felt a lot longer. Surgeons at the hospital had performed a delicate operation on Ben’s bile duct but warned it would take weeks for Ben to heal.
Every night Shelley stayed by Ben’s side in the hospital while Adam looked after the three girls at the Ronald McDonald House. At 7am Adam would go to the hospital ward and Shelley would return to the Ronald McDonald House to get the two eldest girls ready for school at the hospital’s own school.
The Ronald McDonald House played an important part in helping the family cope.
Shelley said: “If we didn't have that we would not have been able to stay together as a family. We wouldn't have met other people going through similar tragedies and offering support. It also gives siblings a place to chill out and not have to be in a hospital 24/7.”
The family was also grateful for the use of the Starlight room, an escape for the girls and the Ronald McDonald Family Room where they could all get away from the ward to have a cup of tea or a snack.
“The volunteers in both Ronald McDonald House and Room are absolute angels. What a selfless thing they do by helping others in need,” Shelley said.
Adam said that after the surgery Ben had tubes everywhere. “There were so many drains and tubes everywhere I could hardly pick him up; you couldn’t find a patch big enough to touch him.”
“I just wanted to hold him,” Shelley said.
After 16 days on the Intensive Care Unit Ben was put onto a ward and it wasn’t long before nurses and patients all got to know Ben.
“I’d just go to the toilet and when I came back there’s a patient talking to Ben. We used to walk around with him in the pram and all the nurses and the patients knew him,” Adam said.
“One lady even gave him the bracelet off her wrist because he liked it.”
On May 21, Ben had to go back to the operating theatre once again to have his gall bladder attached to his bowel so that his bile could flow.
And while there was concern about the two-hour operation, Shelley felt certain that Ben could pull through. “He’d been through one and the first time we didn’t know whether he was going to live.”
Afterwards, Adam said that Ben improved in leaps and bounds and on May 28, the family was back once again in their Merimbula home.
His parents know that anything could still happen.
“He’s good and he’s crawling but he still gets upset. I don’t know how long it will take, he’s weak, he’s very fragile and he’s traumatised,” Adam said.
On the day the accident happened, one minute Ben had been in the arms of one of his sisters and it had crossed Shelley’s mind to say something about taking care. The next minute the unthinkable had happened.
Shelley said: “It happens so quickly. You can’t be too over-protective. Nothing is too silly to say. The kids have suffered; they’re emotional too.”
In the meantime Adam said that the family was taking one day at a time and were keen to get back to the hospital for a check up that would hopefully provide positive news for his brave little son.
A caring community that made the difference
Despite the trauma the family has been through, Shelley said that the ordeal had been made much easier to deal with by the kindness and care that the family received.
Shelley said: “The paramedics here in Merimbula were fantastic; helpful and reassuring and caring. Not once did they make me feel to blame. The paramedics who flew us from Bega to Canberra were absolutely fabulous and very precise. They were the ones that found the collapsed lung.
“We are so lucky to have the Snowy Hydro SouthCare helicopter and Careflight. It makes me realise we are not isolated here in our country/seaside paradise.”
There was praise too for the kindness of friends. “Janita Fernando has been such a good friend in helping our house be well maintained on the outside. She organised to have our lawn mowed every month. She also prayed for us and gave me ongoing support.
“My sisters Kristy Stokan and Nicole Gordon and mother Zelma Smallwood were very helpful and supportive. They helped look after the kids, put our bins out, checked the mail and gave loads of love and support.”
“This has put a big strain on our family financially, emotionally, mentally and physically. There will be therapy and counselling to go through to help us get through this so we ask for our family and friends for the continuing love and support especially for the girls, to make our road to full recovery a lot smoother,” Shelley said.