Hunter Smith's family have battled to bring him back to Australia for medical treatment after he suffered a catastrophic brain injury in the USA.
Hunter Smith's family have battled to bring him back to Australia for medical treatment after he suffered a catastrophic brain injury in the USA.

Heartbroken mum fights for son with critical brain injury

A DEVASTATED Byron Bay mum has been battling bureaucracy to get critical medical care for her son, care that Australians take for granted.

Concetta Antico, an artist from Byron Bay, received the devastating news her son had suffered a severe brain injury on September 17, after double pneumonia caused him to go into cardiac arrest, resulting in an anoxic brain injury.

Hunter Smith, 33, was found unconscious in his home in San Diego, and since then, his mum has been trying to bring him to Australia for treatment that he will not get if he stays in the US.

Hunter, a dual citizen, had medical insurance, but Ms Antico said it was "meagre" and her son faced being released from hospital to a facility that was little more than a nursing home, with a ratio of one carer to 25 patients.

She said Hunter would not receive the occupational, physical, and speech therapy crucial to his rehabilitation, and it would also leave him more more vulnerable to catching COVID-19.

"We had no other option than to pay the $2000 a day to keep him in hospital," Ms Antico said.

Doctors initially told the family Hunter was not likely to survive, but he defied the odds and came out of the coma, was able to breathe unaided, and was showing small signs of recovery.

 

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In the month since, Ms Antico has been battling to get Hunter transferred to Australia for treatment.

But she has had to fight bureaucracy every step of the way.

"Without intervention, without me screaming and kicking, we'd still be without a hospital," she said.

Adding to the heartbreak, Ms Antico has not been able to see her son.

"It's just so tragic. I feel so helpless. I haven't even been able to see my son, I just sit here," she said.

Hunter's brother and sister, Zen and Ava, live in the region, but his dad and partner of 11 years were in the USA.

The paperwork required for his dad to accompany him on the flight to Australia may not be approved in time.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Hunter and his medical team need to quarantine when they arrive in Australia, something hospitals in NSW and QLD were initially reluctant to accommodate.

However, after political intervention, a bed was found at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

"We are so grateful," Ms Antico said. "It is one of the best brain trauma hospitals in the country."

The family have Medicare cards and passports ready, and now wait for flight confirmation - but it will be expensive.

COVID-19 restrictions on flights has tripled the price of a normal medevac operation, as up to four rows of seats on a commercial flight must be booked for Hunter and his medical team of two nurses and a paramedic. The cost was estimated at $100,000.

A flight looks to be secured for November 12, with the possibility it might be sooner.

Ms Antico was anxious about the medical bills that will accrue in that time, but said "as a parent, you do what you need to do".

So far, the GoFundMe campaign has raised $50,519 of the $100,000 target.


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