Toddler’s tragic death triggers urgent hospital review

When I heard the barking sound of a child violently coughing, I thought there must have been another family walking past our room. We were on holidays in Fiji, so I was a little disoriented. When I got my bearings, I realised the strange sound was coming from my two-year-old son.

He had been super fussy going to sleep, but other than that, there hadn’t been any symptoms that he was sick. He’d never had any respiratory illnesses before.

Yet here he was in the middle of the night, coughing his little lungs out and struggling to breath.


To say I panicked was an understatement. He was floppy, pale, clammy and upset, and I was in a foreign country, 45 minutes drive to the closest hospital. And let’s be clear: the hospital facilities in Fiji don’t quite match up to the incredible equipment and trained professionals that we have at our $2bn Gold Coast University Hospital.

I whisked him into a taxi at 2 o’clock in the morning and we hightailed it to medical help. The whole drive, he was coughing and crying. I desperately hoped that I was over-reacting, that it was just a little virus, but I knew it was serious.

It was serious, but thankfully, easily treatable. It turned out he had croup, a relatively common but potentially life-threatening respiratory illness. Twenty minutes on a saline infuser, along with an upright position when sleeping for the next day, helped clear his lungs. There were steroids on hand if it got worse, but it thankfully didn’t.

That was six months ago. He’s had a few more cases of croup since, including a drama-filled ride in an ambulance one night when he was staying with my mum.

The hospital care we’ve received at public hospitals on the Gold Coast has been second to none, and he’s never had to wait to receive treatment, which is why I was heartbroken to hear that little Isaiah Sumaru died two weeks ago, after waiting more than two hours for medical treatment in Melbourne.

The Health Minister is ordering an urgent investigation following the two-year-old’s death, and rightly so; no child should have to wait hours for emergency treatment. Apparently they were out of beds, but medical treatment should have been initiated sooner for the toddler, who they suspect had pneumonia.

The feeling of panic and fear that courses through you when your child is sick is absolutely heart-wrenching. No parents should suffer the horrific pain of losing their child this way; my heart goes out to Isaiah’s devastated family. We can only hope the investigation leads to more resources and clearer policies around treating children, so this heartbreak doesn’t happen again.