Vision for Life: 'He wasn't just sick, he was dying'

Second chance: Beau Cudmore with parents Brent and Gemma at the launch of Vision for Life.
Second chance: Beau Cudmore with parents Brent and Gemma at the launch of Vision for Life.

When Gemma Cudmore's nine-day-old baby Beau fell ill suddenly last year she rushed him from her home in Appin to the local emergency department.

Within minutes of arriving at Campbelltown Hospital, paediatricians at Westmead - more than 40 kilometres away - had diagnosed him with a congenital heart defect over a video monitor.

''The second the Westmead doctors saw him on the cameras, they knew it was an emergency,'' says Ms Cudmore, 29.

''He was struggling for breath. He wasn't just sick - he was dying. The vision meant doctors could keep him alive until he had surgery.''

Mrs Cudmore's son is among more than 100 children who have been treated and diagnosed via a high-resolution video network trialled at Liverpool and Campbelltown hospitals over the past year. It is now being installed at 20 local hospitals in NSW.

Andrew Berry, the state director of the Newborn and Paediatric Emergency Transport Service, said the cameras would give children rapid access to experts from Westmead and Sydney Children's Hospital, a consultation that was previously done over the phone.

''There are hundreds of seriously sick children every year for whom this will make the difference between life and death,'' Dr Berry said. He said the cameras would improve accuracy in diagnosis, reduce response times and help specialists make better decisions about transport, including whether to fly patients to base hospitals or to Sydney for emergency treatment.

Of the of the 4000 cases NETS dealt with every year, he said, about half were critically ill children or babies. ''For many of those, the difference in survival will depend upon being able to see them.''

Cameras with built-in microphones will be installed in special care nurseries, emergency departments and children's wards in rural and regional hospitals including Tamworth, Armidale, Cessnock, and Gosford.

''In Beau's case, the camera showed symptoms that couldn't be described by doctors at Campbelltown,'' Dr Berry said.

''The vision made it clear that he needed heart surgery so we sent a team straight away.''

In many cases, he said, illness was either underestimated or ''things aren't as bad as they sound, and with a bit of tweaking, we can make them even better''.

Dr Berry said it was his hope the $7 million dollar Vision for Life program, funded by NSW Health and Variety children's charity, would be installed in all hospitals within the next two years.


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