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How I Met Dr M. Donnellan - Part 1

It was in 2016 around April, I’d been told by the visiting doctor, that no surgeon in my area and surrounds would do any other spinal operation bar a disc removal and spinal infusion. Which is where they remove all of your natural disc and insert a man-made disc between the vertebrae (bones). And over time this fake device and vertebrae fuses together. This for me was not an option as I would have to live the rest of my life with a fused spine and at 24years old I wasn’t having it. As I knew there were far better options for me out there.

So one morning in April while mum and I were looking for a doctor willing and skilled to help me, on comes the morning Studio10 show. And on there was a story from Dr Charles Teo speaking out about the medical bullying and patients being neglected by other doctors unwilling to reign in their ego and help. He spoke about being pushed aside by other doctors because he’d operate on the patients classed “inoperable:” Mum immediately researched Dr Teo’s place of work and called. Where we were told “All you need to do is send in a referral and all current scans” mum asked does this need to be a specialists referral as we didn’t’ have one. She calmly stated no. In tears of joy mum told me the news and hope was sparked back into our lives. It was a sure tale sign and guidance that this was who I need in my life.

This is Dr Teo:

So we obtained the current scans from 2014 till July 2015 along with the General Practitioner referral; and a detail letter explaining my complexities and unique circumstances. About me having CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) and a majorly blown inwards L4/L5 disc. That had now entrapped my Left S1 nerve root by easily 80%. the S1 nerve Root controlled my legs stability. Then add in my severely broken coccyx which in the 2015 scans showed it was broken into an L shape, I was living in hell.

After a month-ish maybe less, we got a call from Dr Donnellan himself, who was confused beyond belief regarding my CRPS, as he stated “I don’t believe you have CRPS in your spine, you are suffering from a severely blown disc, but this is fixable” mum and I burst into tears and thanked him.

As finally someone listened to us in that my suffering from my spinal issues was fixable and it didn’t need to be infused. That all those years of suffering were unnecessary. We then explained and clarified to him “No the CRPS is in my whole Left leg which flares from how much pain I go through with my back and coccyx. And having those nerve pinched and triggering my Left Sciatic leg nerve that this would in turn flare my CRPS.”

I and mum then said “that we were under no illusion that having this spinal operation would cure my CRPS; but having unnecessary pain and suffering with a mechanical issue of my body, was what we needed his help with. As having 3 separate, yet, connected issues (2 mechanical and 1 neurological) was just too much and he totally agreed and asked further information about what current care I was receiving; and how he could get up to us or mum and I down to him.

As we are in Cairns Far North Queensland and he in Sydney which is over 2000 kilometres/1500 miles apart. Which being in the physical condition I was/am in, I was/am unable to just get in a car and or plane and fly/drive to him. So I told him the only way I’d be able to get to him is via a medical flight where I could lay on my right side like I do at home. So he asked us to leave this information with him and he’d call back after he could figure out the safest way, whilst causing the less stress, to my physical health to get to him.

About a week or less later he called back with a plan. He was invited to an upcoming visit to Townsville Public Hospital and wanted to get me to him in the two short weeks he was there to see him. Which was the last couple of days in June till early/mid July 2016.

When mum and I got this phone call saying this we just fell to pieces. . . the only way I can even to attempt to explain how we felt I’ll use a relate able scenario as the fear and real hell we were in started to float away.

It Goes something like this.. a one off freak accident and emergency situation, something life threatening like a plane crash or a horrific car crash (which I have experienced) happened. And those first few moments and hours after the emergency you see the services arrive. And you take that big deep breathe and just breathe out slowly all the fear, all the what ifs?

If I’d been left just a little bit longer would I have died?

Or the did that really just happen? and then the emergency crews arrive and you see them as angels, bringers of life and safety and you just know that it’ll be ok. Of course it’d never be the same again but you know for that moment you are safe. This is exactly what this phone call meant to mum and I. As finally after years of saying something is wrong, she’s getting worse. Was not only heard but we were offered real changing help! And this hope still carries through today. Once Dr Donnellan arrived in Townsville we knew the countdown to get to him was on. We say and thought this as Dr Donnellan is (in my personal view) the TOP world orthopaedic/neurological spinal doctor. Not only for his skills but because of his humanity. So we knew that all the teaching students and many other patients in need would be chasing his gift and help. In saying this no matter how busy Dr Donnellan was during this first week he had not forgotten mum and I and in between his schedule, he was arranging my travel details. He got me to admit to Cairns Base as an in-patient, where I could be flown down to him via the in patient transfer. My arrival to Cairns based on Sunday afternoon went very well. Then I spent the night. The very next morning I was flown to Townsville, this was harsh because on landing I had an active CRPS flare. I was offered pain relief but I knew mum was waiting for me at Townsville thankfully with my Aunty Fiona. Once in Emergency mum and I brought the flare under control to be moved onto the next department; where I was finally admitted under Townsville and Dr Donnellan. When I saw his name as my doctor on the bed wall name board it started to become real. I was nervous, but I wasn’t afraid quiet the opposite actually; I was ready,! I had dreamt for years what it would feel like to have control of my legs or too not feel my spine snapping into my stomach. That night I laid there and imagine exactly what my legs would feel like waking up from surgery, what my surgical wound site would feel like. I’d imagine every step I’d take without not feeling the slightest tingling pain sensations. Tuesday I knew was going to be busy as Monday was the Townsville public town holiday. So Tuesday I waited for Dr Donnellan, I wasn’t sure if I’d see him in the doctor morning round visits. By lunch time and afternoon rounds I did start to wonder if he was able to come today?. Then by 8 pm I couldn’t wait any more and had to go to the toilet. I held off as I didn’t want to be in a sweating, crying, breathless mess when I met him.

But as it happened Doctor Donnellan did arrive and unfortunately I was unable to talk so I was very grateful for my mum still being there. I was so nervous as he was my every last hope to get help and I didn’t want to meet him like this I wanted to be able to communicate lol. Any ways Dr Donnellan just calmly walked in still in his surgeon dress wear and I was so grateful that even after the long day in theatre he still made time for me. He was so calming I just, it helped me breathe, I don’t know how else to explain this but I felt VERY safe with him. So he sat down calmly and said “Hello Mollie I’m Doctor Donnellan, I can see you’re not ok but can you tell me what’s wrong?” mum stepped in as a struggled to form a sentence, and for the first time in years. Mum was listen to as a mother who cared for me every day in and out while watching me getting worse. And he listened to her.

He explained what he had planned out and what I was to expect. Wednesday I was getting two different types of scans an MRI and a CT bone scan as he wanted to see where my coccyx had broken to as the last scan was in 2015. He was aiming if everything went as he planned in surgery, to hopefully remove my coccyx or at least try to stabilise it. But the priority was to fix my blown disc and release this trapped nerve. Then Thursday was my big consult with him on if we could do the operation and my options that were available. And if the surgery was a go ahead. I think at that moment he saw mum and i’s worry and he,. . I honestly can’t explain what he said . . . but he gave great reassurance that this was happening.

Dr D, a smiling face to my rescue...

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