Mystery TC Debbie bug has husband-to-be fighting for life

SURVIVOR: Brett Young currently in Townsville Hospital learning to walk, talk and eat again.
SURVIVOR: Brett Young currently in Townsville Hospital learning to walk, talk and eat again. Contributed

HIS wedding was planned for the end of April and he was excited about entering Airlie Beach Race Week with his new wife.

But instead of walking down the aisle and sailing his boat, Brett Young was admitted to hospital where he has spent more than 80 days in intensive care fighting for his life from the devastating effects of a mystery bacteria believed to have been inhaled post Cyclone Debbie.

Currently Mr Young is undergoing extensive rehabilitation in Townsville Hospital and can only talk in a whisper, however His partner and bride-to-be Tanya Bartram has opened up about his ordeal in a bid to reach out to other people facing similar challenges.

She said the couple now felt passionate about the use of masks in post-cyclone clean-ups to help prevent the occurrence of rare infections and exposure to uncommon bacteria.

"It really has been an eye-opener. You just didn't see people wearing masks ... you just got in and got on with the clean-up," she said.

>>>READ MORE: Cyclone Debbie bug strikes down schoolboy

Ms Bartram said an otherwise healthy Mr Young - who had previously never been in hospital and was not a smoker - started experiencing complications after chopping and clearing trees and debris in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie.

The first symptoms were aching limbs and the onset of a cough which included shortness of breath.

Over Easter the 58-year-old's health worsened, and by the Tuesday night, he had been urgently transferred from Proserpine to Mackay Hospital where he was admitted to the intensive care unit.

He couldn't breathe independently and over the next two days, his oxygen levels plummeted to life-threateningly low levels.


HAPPIER TIMES: Brett Young and Tayna Bartram.
HAPPIER TIMES: Brett Young and Tayna Bartram. Contributed

Ms Bartram was told her fiancé might not survive, and a team of infectious disease specialists, including doctors from Brisbane, worked desperately to find out what he had been struck with and how it could be treated.

"They thought he had inhaled an air-borne bacteria which had gone to the lungs," she said.

Mr Young had his first heart attack while still in intensive care on April 25, and another one the day after. During his stay in intensive care he was in an induced coma, had a tracheotomy, and also suffered a stroke.

Ms Bartram said because of the length of time Mr Young spent immobile, he was virtually paralysed when he awoke and was now relearning how to walk, talk and eat.

She said doctors told the couple they believed lots of bacteria became air-borne in the aftermath of the cyclone, and people involved in the clean-up could have been at risk.

However, Proserpine Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Shaun Grimes said the Proserpine Hospital had not seen an increase in respiratory cases following Tropical Cyclone Debbie.

"(But) there is always a variety of respiratory germs circulating, and in some cases the exact cause is uncertain despite extensive testing," he said.

"I am aware of some people who have a nagging, persisting cough; however, all attempts to grow cultures haven't revealed the bacteria or virus responsible.

Public Health Physician Dr Steven Donohue said he had not seen "widespread illnesses or infectious disease outbreaks" since Cyclone Debbie.

He said unfortunately it wasn't always possible to find the cause of a respiratory illness despite extensive laboratory testing.

"I appreciate this is frustrating for people with a severe illness because there is a natural desire to know why you are sick and to look back and connect the illness with an event such as the cyclone," he said.

Mr Donohue said one rare condition with a small but definite increase was melioidosis, caused by bacteria normally in deeper layers of soil.

"(But) year to date, there have been six cases. In 2016 there were two cases. During wet weather the bacteria can come to the surface of the soil and this is why we advise people to avoid unnecessary contact with dirt, mud and floodwater and to wear boots and gloves when cleaning up," he said.

"Thanks to the public health response after Cyclone Debbie there have been no outbreaks of respiratory or gastrointestinal infections or water-borne diseases."

Dr Grimes said Cyclone Debbie had certainly taken its toll on the Whitsunday community "and we are long way from being 100%, however people will slowly rebuild their homes and their health".

He said after any disaster, there was an increase in psychological stress including depression or anxiety and it was crucial to seek medical advice for these conditions.

Topics:  cyclone debbie infectious disease tc debbie whitsundays

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