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Stories of human spirit: The faces of The Alfred

Stephanie Browitt was on New Zealand’s White Island in 2019 when an active volcano erupted. Her father and younger sister lost their lives in the tragedy, and Browitt spent months in a coma after suffering extensive burns. Hers was an unfathomable hand to be dealt.

Stephanie Browitt was on New Zealand’s White Island in 2019.

Stephanie Browitt was on New Zealand’s White Island in 2019.Credit: Chris Franklin.

But Browitt didn’t let it defeat her. Instead, with the help of the burns team, nurses and specialists at The Alfred, Browitt began a remarkable recovery so that she could return home to be with her mum.

“[Hospital staff] fast became my number one supporters, behind my mum,” she says. “When I was finally able to stand, when I took one step more than the previous day, they would always be there cheering me on.”

Today, Browitt is an advocate for organ and tissue authority DonateLife and an example of how resilient the human spirit can be. She’s not just a survivor but an inspiration to many.

As Browitt tells it: “I am determined that my injuries and scars will not define me.”

The childhood sweethearts who married in intensive care

Childhood sweethearts Toni and Jesse had a different sort of wedding to most.

Childhood sweethearts Toni and Jesse.

Childhood sweethearts Toni and Jesse.Credit: Supplied.

25-year-old Toni was attached to life support machines and hours away from major heart surgery when she was wheeled into The Alfred Hospital chapel to say ‘I Do’. She was suffering from a potentially fatal heart failure as well as stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Her unique situation meant Toni had to be placed on the most extreme type of life support, called ECMO, while in a coma and receiving chemotherapy at the same time. When she regained consciousness, her partner Jesse didn’t take long to pop the question.

So in just three days, before Toni was scheduled to undergo a heart surgery that doctors warned she may not survive, staff at The Alfred managed to pull off her very special nuptials.

Miraculously, Toni’s story has a happy ending – she survived the surgery, and is now doing well at home with Jesse and her family.

The farmer who survived 23 hours trapped in a car crash

Farmer Harry Edwards.

Farmer Harry Edwards.Credit: Anna Carlile.

Just days before Christmas in 2019, farmer Harry Edwards was driving along a regional road when he lost control of his car, swerved and tumbled down a gully. He was conscious after the crash but with his legs crushed underneath the dashboard and in a mobile phone blackspot, he had no way to call for help.

Edwards knew that his odds of being spotted from the road were slim, but hoped that a local might notice the pole his car had struck and come to investigate. Finally, a full 23 hours later, that’s what happened.

The then 53-year-old was flown to The Alfred for treatment. Damage to his kidney required dialysis and severe injuries to his right leg meant that he had to undergo an amputation below the knee. After a period in the ICU, he was transferred to the Trauma Ward, where his positive attitude made an impression on those around him.

“Harry was one of those patients who made the work so enjoyable – every time we walked in to see him, he was smiling,” says trauma physician Dr Helen Stergiou.

You can help more Victorian’s survive life’s most critical moments by donating to The Alfred here.

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