Faced with the greatest of losses, Ballarat student Michelle Seccull and husband Jon gave the greatest of gifts. The first-year Bachelor of Nursing/Bachelor of Paramedicine student told her family’s story to Dimity May.
On October 3, 2011, Michelle and Jon’s three-year-old son Ethan was clipped by a V/Line passenger train that ran behind the family’s home in Wallace, rural Victoria, after climbing the gate to wave to the train.
He was airlifted to the Royal Children’s Hospital. A heartbroken Michelle and Jon found themselves by the bedside of their tiny son at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, facing the devastating reality that little Ethan would not survive.
“Brain pressure is ranked on a scale measuring millimetres of mercury,” Michelle explains.
“Anything over 20 indicates brain damage of increasing severity.” Ethan’s brain pressure was at 150.
“We knew there wasn’t going to be any miraculous recovery. We were standing in the room with him and I said to Jon, ‘What would we give for that doctor to walk back in and tell us they’ve found a way to help him and we’re going to be able to take him home?’ “And we knew that wasn’t going to happen.
But we also knew that somewhere out there was a family whose doctor has just told them there was nothing more that could be done for their child. Maybe that child needs a new heart, or a new liver, or new kidneys. And while we couldn’t get our miracle, maybe that family could get theirs.” In an incredible gesture of kindness and generosity, Michelle and Jon made the decision to donate their son’s organs and tissues.
“We both didn’t want anyone to ever have to feel what we were feeling right then. The hospital staff were incredible. After theatre, we were able to come back to give Ethan a cuddle, to have one last cuddle with him. “
For the Secculls, being able to donate Ethan’s organs and tissues, and knowing their decision helped to save three lives, has given them some comfort.
“In some ways it was a miracle we were even able to do this,” Michelle says. “Only one per cent of people die in a way that make them eligible to donate their organs. You either have to be pronounced brain dead and in\ ICU and donation can take place after that, or on life support in ICU and you opt to donate and you turn off the life support. “
There’s a window of just 90 minutes after death where organs can be donated. Tissues are different in that just about anybody who dies can donate tissues up to 24 hours after death. It depends on so much, and Ethan was the only child at the Royal Children’s Hospital to donate his organs in 2011. If he had died at the scene, or in the helicopter, or in the emergency ward, we wouldn’t have been able to do this. And for us, that has helped, because there are families out there who haven’t had to go through what we did.”
Their tragic experience has seen Michelle and Jon become passionate advocates of organ and tissue donation. They now work closely with DonateLife, speaking at events around the country to promote awareness of the need for increased levels of organ and tissue donation in Australia.
“I’d always been passionate about organ donation, now even more so,” said Michelle. “Australia has one of the highest success rates in transplantation yet one of the lowest organdonation rates in the world. We just want to get people talking. Would you rather think about it now, or once you’re standing next to a loved one on a life-support system?” For Michelle and Jon, being able to work with DonateLife has provided a sense of purpose.
“Working with DonateLife, it’s allowed us to talk about what’s happened in a more positive way. Ethan’s death is something we’ll never get over. People grieve in different ways but promoting organ donation has been something Jon and I can do together, while remembering Ethan.” The years since Ethan’s death have been impossibly challenging. But Michelle said falling in a heap was never an option, especially with three young children to look after. “Of course there are mornings when all you want to do is cry and you don’t want to get out of bed.
But there’s always Faced with the greatest of losses, Ballarat student Michelle Seccull and husband Jon gave the greatest of gifts. The first-year Bachelor of Nursing/Bachelor of Paramedicine student told her family’s story to Dimity May. a little person at the end of the bed wanting their breakfast.
And we were very conscious that we didn’t want our kids getting the impression they’re not worth getting out of bed for.” To add to her challenges, after 12 years working in a variety of administrative roles at Ballarat’s St John of God Hospital, Michelle made the brave decision to embark on a four-year Bachelor of Nursing/Bachelor of Paramedicine degree at ACU in Ballarat.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, but it was a big decision. We talked a lot about whether we could actually do it; manage with the kids and with only one salary. But after something like this, you realise you just have to get on with it.”
In recognition of her exceptional contribution to the community through her work with Donate Life, Michelle has just been awarded two prestigious scholarships, which will offer much-needed financial support as she progresses through her studies.
The first, the George Alexander Foundation Scholarship, was founded by the late industrialist and philanthropist George Alexander AM for the purpose of assisting outstanding rural students especially those experiencing economic disadvantage, to achieve their undergraduate educational goals successfully. This scholarship will provide Michelle with $15,000 over the course of her degree.
The second, the Sophia Scholarship, provides a one-off payment of up to $5,000 recognising students for outstanding contributions to the Common Good. For now, Michelle is fitting in study around the demands of three children, and enjoying fulfilling her life-long dream of studying nursing and paramedicine.
“You can’t change the past, so I just take it one day at a time, sometimes a minute at a time. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and eventually you’ll make it.”
To find out more about ACU scholarships, visit acu.edu.au/scholarships. To register as an organ donor,visit donatelife.gov.