PEOPLE struggle to believe Armadale resident Caris Strestik (20) when she tells them she died for 28 minutes and came back to life.
Armadale Hospital emergency doctor Ash Mukherjee said her recovery was a miracle because when he first saw her on September 17, she was dead.
Ms Strestik cut the femoral artery in her right thigh in a freak accident while she was cooking.
Her partner Adam Chester, and her neighbours, frantically tried to stop the bleeding but she was almost unconscious by the time the ambulance arrived.
It only took five minutes to get her to hospital from the time she collapsed but when she got to the emergency department she was in cardiac arrest, had no pulse, was not conscious or breathing.
Dr Mukherjee said Ms Strestik had completely bled out.
“She basically had no blood in her system,” he said.
“Her heart was empty, it was only through giving her blood that we were able to fill the heart – we finished the blood bank.
“Because she had bled out, it was very difficult to find veins, we had to go into her legs and groin to get direct access to the blood system.”
A team of doctors and nurses tried to resuscitate Ms Strestik and after about 25 minutes they managed to get some cardiac activity back.
Dr Mukherjee said after that amount of time, people would start to consider that they had done all they could.
“After prolonged cardiac arrest you can get their heart to work, but when they recover you end up having brain damage with that much hypoxia,” he said.
And Ms Strestik’s journey to recovery was far from over.
Surgeon Dr Vineeta Singh operated to control the bleeding and repair the artery, which was “hosing out” blood.
Doctors had to go into the groin area, find the ends of the cut blood vessels and perform a vein graft to get them back together.
Dr Singh said Ms Strestik started to improve a little bit after the ongoing bleeding had been controlled.
“The limb can survive for a few hours without blood, so we had this limited time to control the bleeding and make sure we joined the artery and vein back together,” he said
A vascular surgeon from Fiona Stanley Hospital Dr Carsten Ritter was called in to help finish the job.
The surgery took six hours.
Caris Strestik was put in an induced coma for 48 hours.
Her parents, Geof Fairhurst and Deb Fairhurst, had been waiting in agony, not knowing if their daughter would ever wake.
Mrs Fairhurst said they were told to prepare for the possibility of brain damage or that she might never walk again.
“The brain and body starts to deteriorate after four minutes without blood. She wasn’t breathing and her heart wasn’t beating for 25 minutes,” she said.
“Even if she did start breathing on her own, we were told there might be problems with her bowel, kidneys, liver, heart.”
“By Sunday, if there had been no signs of improvement at all, we would have to start considering switching things off.”
But Ms Strestik started to show remarkable signs of recovery on Saturday, with no brain damage at all.
Doctors still had to keep an eye out for melena, bleeding or shedding of the inner lining to in the gastrointestinal tract.
It can occur after hypoxia when the body squeezes all its blood centres to the brain, which results in loss of blood to other areas of the body.
Although there were signs of melena, it didn’t result in any permanent damage.
After four days, she was given the all clear.
She was discharged from hospital on day eight.
Caris Strestik said her brush with death had given her a new lease on life.
“Before all this happened, I was a very independent, young mum,” she said.
“As soon as I was able to walk again, within a week of getting out of hospital, I was trying to chase my son down.
“It felt amazing to stand up and hug people – to even to do the dishes.”
Ms Strestik said she was extremely thankful to the doctors that did not give up on her and saved her life.
“I don’t know what to say to them, they’re amazing, they saved my life. I owe them everything.”
“I’m very thankful to be alive.”
Ms Strestik said she had no idea she died and came back to life, but she believes her late grandparents were looking out for her the whole time.
Ambulance, machines, then darkness
Caris Strestik managed to accidentally cut through an area known as the femoral triangle, where all major blood vessels supplying the lower limb are lined up.
Despite the cut in her leg only being 1.5cm, the knife sliced through the femoral artery and femoral veins.
Dr Ash Mukherjee said it is such a precise point in the upper inner thigh that even with his knowledge of anatomy he would have trouble striking the same point.
Ms Streskik said she remembers how serious her injury was as soon as she started bleeding profusely.
“I remember the ambulance arriving and they were putting machines on me, then everything went pitch black,” she said.
“By that point I was on a stretcher and being put in the back of ambulance. I heard a voice saying everything is going to be ok.”
Two days later Ms Strestik woke up.
“It was just like I went to sleep and woke up in a hospital bed. Everything was normal except I couldn’t walk. Then the doctors told me I had died and been in a medically induced coma for two days.”
Dr Mukherjee and Dr Singh said it’s very uncommon to make a full recovery and have no damage, especially to the brain, after being “dead” for 25 minutes.
“I came back after the weekend and I saw her on the phone having breakfast and I was absolutely stunned – it was a miracle,” Dr Mukherjee said.
“It’s very rewarding for us to bring someone back from the cusp.”
Dr Singh said a lot of inner fight comes from the patients and she could tell that Ms Strestik was driven and strong.
“We learn our craft for days like this and this is where we get tested to the maximum. And it’s our reward for 25 years of medicine and surgery.”