‘I never thought it was the end for her'
For Tayla Egan, every day is a day to give thanks.
Two-and-a-half years ago the 17-year-old was on life support and her family were preparing to say goodbye. What started out as cold and flu symptoms had quickly become pneumonia and septicaemia, causing Tayla's organs to shut down.
Her parents Paul and Jo prepared for the worst but as the days passed Tayla miraculously defied the odds - one day turned into three, three days turned into a week, and a week turned into six.
Now back on her feet, the teenager is learning to use prosthetics following the amputation of her left leg below the knee and an above ankle amputation on the other in September 2019.
While the amputations were necessary due to complications from the septicaemia, recovery has proved challenging for everyone.
"It was a big shock and we're still coming to terms with it now," Jo tells Brisbane News.
"We take each day as it comes and don't plan too far ahead. Tayla can't be on her feet too long, but she has started to go to the beach again, which is something she hasn't done for a while."
But while Tayla's prosthetic legs give her "some level of life" she still has a limited range of motion. That's why the Egans are advocates for Bionics Queensland - a not-for-profit organisation launched in August last year bringing together specialists from all healthcare industries to encourage breakthrough solutions that will transform lives.
The team recently launched the Bionics Queensland Challenge 2020, a unique competition that will fast-track life-changing medical bionic technologies.
Bright minds with early to mid-stage bionic innovations are encouraged to enter the challenge in one of three categories: bionic mobility, bionic senses or, neural and artificial intelligence (AI) linked bionic treatments, organs, limbs and devices.
Delivered in partnership with Advance Queensland, winning entrants will share in $165,000 cash prizes.
Bionics Queensland CEO Dr Robyn Stokes says the goal is to accelerate innovation and make it more available to people such as Tayla.
"Our definition of bionics now is a long way from what it was with bionic man in the old movies," she explains. "Artificial intelligence and robotics are now being brought into the forefront and we are seeing the development of quite advanced bionic limbs in the trial stage process that are robotically controlled by technologies or neurally interfaced.
"Our work is all about finding quite advanced solutions for people suffering disabilities or advanced disease and we will be working very conscientiously with other partners, universities and hospitals to try to accelerate that growth.
"Bionic vision is still the holy grail and there are not so many advances in that but people like Tayla can look forward to a bright future with robotic limbs that have a sense of touch rather than the prosthetics."
Encouraged by the work going on, the Egans, who live at Chandler, and also have three boys - Ryley, 14, and Harry and Oliver, 11 - are optimistic for Tayla.
A former student at Ormiston College she "couldn't handle going back" after what had happened so recently started Year 11 and 12 at Alexandra Hills TAFE, and has also completed a makeup course.
Keen to give something back to the community, the teenager is also a model and ambassador of a new initiative, Every Human, a fashion website giving people with disabilities the option to still wear the latest styles and trend.
"Some days Tayla is just like a normal teenage girl," says Jo, 49. "But she does understand the enormity of what's gone on and how close to death she came and is pretty thankful. We didn't tell Tayla she had come home to die, we said she had come home to get better. We had a fake itinerary for a holiday in 12 months time on the wall in her room to give her hope.
"I never thought it was the end for her, call it a mother's feeling. She just had a sparkle in her eyes. We've got through it with a whole heap of banter and lots of love. There are exceptions to what doctors tell you and sometimes you have to have faith and believe in your inner gut for that reason."
Paul, 41, adds, "Tayla has a good sense of humour and is in high spirits mostly. She used to play AFL, netball, touch footy and go surfing. It will be nice to see her get back into those things."
Tayla, who has mobility rehabilitation every day as well as check-ups for her kidneys, lungs and prosthetics, credits her recovery to support from family and friends.
"They've been amazing and I realise how important that is," she says. "I still fight with my brothers and have some very good 'discussions' with my parents, but I think I am more empathetic now and understanding. You never know what is happening in other people's lives and you always need to be mindful of that."
Tayla is also determined not to let her disability define her and hopes by sharing her story she will empower others. "I hope to live a normal fulfilled life and maybe one day be able to help people in my situation see that there is light at the end of the tunnel," she says.
"I'd like to help other teenage girls deal with body image issues and teach them that appearance isn't the most important thing."
Find out more about Bionics Queensland Challenge 2020 at bionicsqueensland.com.au/challenge
Originally published as 'I never thought it was the end for her, call it a mother's feeling