Whakaari/White Island: Burns surgeon with three-month-old back from maternity leave to help injured | Stuff.co.nz
Burns specialist Deirdre Seoighe arrived at work with a three-month-old baby in tow.
Within minutes the Irish born surgeon was grappling with burns in numbers she had never seen before while staffers cuddled her tiny baby.
At hospital she slogged so hard and for so long that she couldn’t remember how many hours she worked either in theatre or on the wards coordinating the massive effort to save lives after the Whakaari / White Island eruption.
“It is a bit stressful to see this number of traumas come in, but it’s lovely to hold a sleeping baby. It’s kind of a de-stressor.”
At the start of the day, the Waikato-based specialist had been on maternity leave with her fourth child, Ruadhán
She was at her older children’s singing lesson when husband Joe – who works in orthopaedics – sent her an article about the Whakaari / White Island eruption.
“My first set of calls were information-gathering, and my next set of calls were childcare-arranging,” said Seoighe.
Medical staffers around the country have pulled out the stops to help people injured in the eruption and Seoighe, the region’s clinical lead for burns, soon realised she was needed at work.
But Joe was also at the trauma call at Waikato DHB, so she needed a babysitter for their older kids.
“A local teenager called Lucy, who was a total hero, she was out with her friends and she said, yeah, no problem, come pick me up,” Seioghe said.
On Monday night, there were eight surgeries at Waikato Hospital and there have been more every day since.
Seoighe and Ruadhán have been there a lot – he ended up having his three-month vaccinations on site.
When she arrived on Monday, she handed Ruadhán over to management and gave them her number for when he needed a feed.
“He’s the perfect baby for the occasion,” Seoighe said. “He’s pretty chilled.”
“He was loving the fact that he was hugged and cuddled the whole night.”
There was anticipation and readiness as staffers waited for the choppers to land on Monday, she said.
“There wasn’t a sense of panic. There was a sense of, we have a lot of work to do and we will get it done.”
The emergency department trains for these situations, she said, and Waikato is a level one trauma centre – with all specialties under one roof.
“As soon as [patients] were cleared from a trauma point of view, the plastics service took over. Theatre were ready, anaesthetics were ready, nursing staff were ready, radiology was ready. We didn’t have to ask for anything we needed twice.”
Doctors from all specialties had offered to scrub in if needed and plastic surgery team members showed up despite not being on call.
“Everyone heard the news and went to the emergency department to be of service. People don’t have to be told. They just arrived.”
“Everyone has come in on days off. People have given up private operating lists.”
Seoighe can’t count the hours of surgery since Monday but said her coordinating role means her team did more operating than she has.
And though she has treated severe burns in her 15 or so years as a surgeon, she hadn’t seen them in such large numbers, or treated volcanic burns.
While her team normally deals a lot with patients’ families, identification issues around Whakaari made this time a bit different.
The hospital took in eight critical patients on Monday: two were transferred to Middlemore, two were airlifted back to Australia, one died, and three remain at Waikato Hospital.
It’s hard to lose a patient, Seoighe said, but staff support and the cases with good results get you through.
Community support has been a boost: private hospitals donated dressings and equipment, people have rung offering to donate their own skin – ethical issues prevent that.
“My elderly neighbours come and pick my kids up from my house at quarter to seven in the morning and walk them down to school,” Seoighe said. “When I got home [on Thursday] there was a box of meals left outside my door with meals for the week. … Staff are kind of doing that for each other all around the hospital.”
Waikato’s plastics team comprises around six consultants, plus Seoighe, and around 10 registrars and four house officers.
This content was originally published here.