A Walking Miracle

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Princess Alexandra Hospital

Metro South Health

 

Boat explosion survivor thanks skin donors who saved his life

He knew nothing about organ and tissue donation before his accident, but after receiving burns to 90% of his body in an Airlie Beach boat explosion in April this year, Dave Andersen is now quite the expert.

Burnt from the neck down, he is a walking miracle; a miracle Dave reckons is due to the numerous skin grafts and medical expertise he received during his recovery.

“I had no idea about donation. I had no idea someone who had died could donate skin; skin that allowed my body to heal. I find it all amazing,” said Dave today at the launch of DonateLife Week in Queensland.

With his wife Simone and two boys, Alex and Dan by his side since that fateful day, Dave’s recovery has astounded even his doctors.

Acting Director of Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital Burns Unit Dr Jason Brown said severe burns to 90% of the body were usually considered a “death sentence”.

“Most people with burns this size do not survive and, at best, become organ donors themselves,” he said. “Not only did Dave survive, he had an amazing recovery.”

“The fact that he smashed the odds, and spent less than one day in hospital for each percentage of skin burnt is a miracle.” (Standard recovery time for burns is 2.5 to 4 days for each percentage burnt).

Dave spent six weeks in ICU, four weeks in the burns unit and two weeks in rehab before leaving hospital. His recovery required seven trips to the operating room, 40 units of blood and enough donor skin to cover his entire body at least once. He continues to receive physio treatment daily.

The regular physio appointments and the full body suit, which he has to wear 23 hours a day, keep the skin and limbs supple. While he can move around, remaining scar tissue means he still needs help to do things around home.

Simone recounts the first few days after the explosion: “It was surreal; it was like walking around in a nightmare,” she said.

Their two boys have been a rock for her.

“Some days when I cried they would give me a hug and tell me that he’d be ok. That gave me the strength to keep going,” said Simone.

The family sense of humour has been a getting a full work out as well.

“We’ve never taken ourselves too seriously,” said Dave. “The boys said to me the other day ‘Hey dad; you’re fired’, and Simone reckons I’m ‘hot’,” Dave jokes with a huge smile.

While it is remarkable that Dave is here to tell his story – not that he can remember much – there is still a long road ahead for him.

“But it’s not worth crying or complaining as that just makes life worse. Besides it could have been a lot worse, I could be dead if not for donors and their families,” he said.

“How can you thank them for giving me my life and allowing me to be here and watch my boys grow up? I knew nothing about organ and tissue donation but now I have received all these skin grafts, I am now definitely a donor and my family knows that.”

Before the accident, Dave and Simone ran their own water sports business in the Whitsundays and Dave was constantly on the water, taking customers sailing, kayaking and snorkelling. With the damage to his skin, returning to his previous work looks unlikely.

“My future? I don’t know. I’m concentrating on the here and now and getting better. I don’t think I can go back working on the water, but something will turn up.”

Dave will celebrate his birthday during DonateLife Week which is from Sunday 2-Sunday 9 August. The aim of this week is to raise awareness about the benefits of organ and tissue donation.

For more information about organ and tissue donation go to www.donatelife.gov.au

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