License article

Doc Martin and patient team up to help trauma patients

It was a bright winter's day in July 2010 when Darryl O'Callaghan went out for a motorbike ride.

"It was supposed to last four hours," the 49-year-old recalled on Wednesday. "I came home four months later."

With a trauma symposium beginning at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital on Thursday, Mr O'Callaghan is keen to tell his remarkable tale of survival, and how he and the doctor who saved him are now working to help other trauma victims.

Mr O'Callaghan was riding with friends along Mt Samson Road northwest of Brisbane when a car towing a trailer jack-knifed into his lane.

He was sent hurtling through the crisp Dayboro air and onto a guard rail.

"My ribs on my right hand side were all broken, my pelvis was broken in three places, I badly shattered my right shoulder, broke my left wrist, and had a huge wound through my back and spine," Mr O'Callaghan said.


"My right lung was collapsed, left lung badly bruised, I had massive internal and external bleeding and a contusion to my left knee, multiple internal organ injuries and a whole lot of nerve damage."

Classified as a 'red blanket' patient, he was rushed to an operating theatre at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital where he had several operations.

While Mr O'Callaghan lay unconscious, trauma doctor Martin Wullshleger came into work from a day off to examine his case.

"He was not going to survive the night," said the softly-spoken Dr Wullshleger, known to all as Doc Martin.

A Swiss-born 15-year veteran of trauma medicine who enjoys the challenge of fixing things, Dr Wullshleger argued the risky case to take Mr O'Callaghan back into theatre.

"My suspicion was that we hadn't recognised everything, and that we could do more to fix his bleeding," he said.

Doc Martin was right. Another operation found a hole in Mr O'Callaghan's heart.

"I joke now that he's the only man to have ever held my heart," Mr O'Callaghan laughed.

The IT manager speaks matter-of-factly about the day his body was broken. For him, it's almost as if it happened to a different person.

"What people don't realise is that the people who most experience trauma in those early days are the victim's family," he said.

"I was in a coma for three weeks, but my wife Julie was in Belgium with our 10-month-old daughter Siana at the time of the accident. She had to arrange to get home, having been told I would probably be dead by the time she got back."

Mr O'Callaghan spent a further three months in the intensive care unit at the RBWH, trying to slowly re-teach himself simple things such as how to drink a glass of water or hold a mobile phone.

It was there that, through their mutual interest in Mr O'Callaghan's full recovery and their shared Christian faith, the patient and doctor forged a strong friendship.

Even after Mr O'Callaghan was transferred to the Mater Hospital for intensive rehabilitation and physiotherapy, Doc Martin was never far away.

"On his way home from work from the RBWH, he would drop in and check on me, that's how amazing he is," Mr O'Callaghan said.

"He just always wanted to make sure my care was being handled properly, or answer any questions about future operations and ongoing rehab.

"People can take it or leave this, but [I believe] Doc Martin's arrival was a miraculous intervention."

Two and a half years since his accident, Mr O'Callaghan walks with a limp but has been able to return to work part-time at BMA, where he and Dr Wullshleger have presented trauma prevention talks.

He even became a father for the second time three weeks ago. His youngest daughter was named Mila, an abbreviation of the Spanish word for miracle.

The pair is now developing a website with resources for trauma victims. It includes medical information and insights into the journey of victims and their relatives.

"It's such a hard, hard journey to dig yourself out, from wasting away to nothing in ICU, then returning home and being a burden on your family," Mr O'Callaghan said.

But he's effusive about the work trauma teams do to improving outcomes for patients, saying he would have died had his accident happened five years earlier.

"A whole team of experts worked to save me," he says.

"Doc Martin just went way beyond the call of duty."

The fourth annual Queensland Trauma Symposium begins at the RBWH at Herston on Thursday.

The two-day event focuses on trauma-related care issues, from roadside to rehabilitation.

Dr Wullshleger will give a presentation on major heart injuries on Friday.

1 comment

Comment are now closed