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Family Stories

The Tsoumbakos Family

FFF Advocate:
Rachel Tsoumbakos (mother)
Place of Residence:
Melbourne, Australia
Survivor:
12-years-old, 2015
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Ayla Tsoumbakos

For many months after contracting the flu, Ayla required a wheelchair and had difficulty walking unassisted.

In October 2015, Ayla was a healthy, happy 11-year-old who was counting down the days until her birthday on October 26 and planning for her Grade 6 graduation in December. She fell ill and was sick for three to four days before her condition worsened. Ayla began complaining of pain in her stomach. On October 18, her mother, Rachel, called and spoke with the doctor who did not seem overly concerned about Ayla’s condition, but explained she probably had the flu. Ayla had not been vaccinated for the flu that year because Australia does not have a universal recommendation for flu vaccination.

When Ayla’s arms and legs temporarily turned blue, her mother knew something was seriously wrong so she called for an ambulance. However, upon speaking with Ayla’s mother about Ayla’s symptoms, the emergency response team did not think an ambulance was warranted. Therefore, Ayla’s parents began the one-hour drive to the local hospital themselves. During the drive there, Ayla’s breathing became labored. Ayla’s parents called the ambulance once again and she was finally transported to the emergency room of the local hospital. Upon examination, the medical personnel soon realized that Ayla was showing signs of compartment syndrome, which is a dangerous, life-threatening condition where your muscles begin to swell, impeding blood flow to and from the affected tissues.

Ayla was rushed to another hospital where the medical staff told her parents that it was unlikely Ayla would survive. She was placed into a medically-induced coma. Doctors wanted to operate on Ayla immediately and told her parents amputation of her arms and legs was a likely scenario as a result of compartment syndrome. The surgeons cut large incisions into Ayla’s arms and legs in an effort to relieve some of the swelling, and because her condition improved slightly, amputation was avoided at that point. Amputations were still scheduled for a later date, although the extent of the amputations had been downgraded. It wasn’t until the week after her birthday that amputations were finally deemed unnecessary. Ayla had weekly surgeries while in the hospital and the surgeons were finally able to close her open wounds using skin grafts.

Ayla was diagnosed with influenza A. In addition to compartment syndrome, Ayla also experienced damage to her skeletal muscle, known as rhabdomyolysis, which was another complication of the flu. Ayla also developed kidney failure and was placed on dialysis. She was in the intensive care unit for 21 days before being moved to the regular pediatric ward. It wasn’t long after she was transferred to the ward that her kidneys started working again and peritoneal dialysis was stopped. Overall, Ayla was in the hospital from October 2015 through April 2016, with some short breaks at home during this time. The first of these short home visits was to attend her elementary school graduation.

For many months, Ayla required a wheelchair and had difficulty walking unassisted. Today she walks with the aid of ankle-foot orthoses (AFOs), which are braces she wears on her feet and ankles. She participates in physical therapy on a weekly basis and has extensive scarring on her arms and legs. Despite her harrowing experience, Ayla has a positive outlook on life. She is the only known survivor of acute compartment syndrome occurring in all four limbs within her state of Victoria, Australia. Ayla’s mother, Rachel, is now an active advocate for flu awareness and annual vaccination. Although annual flu vaccination is not generally recommended for healthy children and adults in Australia, Ayla’s family gets vaccinated every year and shares their story with others in hopes that no other child falls victim to the devastating effects of flu.

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