Here, Hannah Mitchell, 14, tells the story in her own words.
J￼umping into the water, my friend Zoe, 14, and I swam towards the beach. We’d come out with Zoe’s dad, Mitch, and his friends, Stuart, Steph, and Mike, for a day on his boat.
After being towed on an inflatable donut, we’d stopped just off the shore of Goodwyn Island, WA. But as I got close to the sand, something brushed my arm. Ouch! I’d been stung by sea lice all day, but this felt different.
Zoe and I looked at my arm, but there were just a few marks at the top. It’s not serious, I thought. Then, as we strolled along the beach, I started to feel sick. My stomach ached too.
‘I think I’m hungry,’ I said to Zoe, turning to head back to the boat. ‘Okay,’ she said, coming with me. That’s when I started to feel terrible.
I can’t hold myself up properly, I realised, finding it hard to walk. It was as if my upper body was numb, and I felt waves of pain.
Somehow, I swam back to the boat.Not wanting to cause a fuss, I tried to hide how bad I felt. Then, pain flooded my lower back.
‘Zoe, does your back hurt?’ I asked, thinking I might have bashed it earlier on the donut. Feeling unsteady, I tried to keep myself perched on the ledge I was sitting on.
‘Are you all right?’ Stuart asked, sensing something was wrong. Suddenly, I fell off the ledge and on to my back. I closed my eyes for what I thought was a second.
Opening them, everyone was standing over me. Then, excruciating pain filled my body. It was unbearable. Overwhelmed, I screamed and thrashed about.
Steph put my head in her lap, trying desperately to comfort me and then I heard something terrifying. ‘I think she’s been stung by an Irukandji,’ she said.
Irukandji are jellyfish, just one centimetre long, but so venomous they can kill.
Hearing that, everyone sprang into action. Speeding back to the mainland 40 minutes away, someone called my mum, Casey, 36, and emergency services.
Screaming in sheer pain, I kept rolling over from my hands and knees to my back, desperately trying to ease the indescribable agony.
It felt like my stomach, heart and lungs were crumbling and dissolving inside me. I’m dying, I realised.
Scenes from my life flashed through my mind. I thought of Mum, my dad Damien, 36, sister Amy, 16, and brother Charlie, five. Steph tried to stop me passing out.
‘Just 10 more minutes,’ she lied, knowing I needed to believe the pain would be over soon. When the boat reached the jetty, I was ready to collapse.
Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of Mum. Then everything went black...
With Hannah passed out from pain, her mum Casey continues the story...￼
As the boat came nearer the jetty, I heard piercing screams. The sound was almost inhuman. Climbing on board, I saw Hannah extremely distressed. It was heartbreaking.
When the ambulance arrived, I went with her to hospital where staff tried everything to stop her pain. Morphine, fentanyl and other strong painkillers couldn’t touch it.
Her screams were so heart-wrenching, they even brought doctors and nurses to tears.
Then, Hannah started to cough up blood. It was terrifying. Her heart and lungs began to fail and she was put in an induced coma. With no antivenom yet developed, there was nothing else they could do.
‘We just have to wait for the venom to leave her system,’ a doctor explained. I couldn’t believe it. Was I going to lose my girl to a tiny jellyfish?
Unconscious, at least Hannah wasn’t in pain. I never thought I’d be glad my daughter was in a coma, I thought.
After two days, they had to wake Hannah. Being sedated could cause the toxins to be flushed out more slowly, so it was a balancing act.
I held my breath, hoping the pain had eased. But soon she was screaming again. The horrendous bouts of pain came and went. ‘Let me die, Mum,’ Hannah begged, in the grip of another agonising episode.
Hearing my girl ask if she could die was devastating. ‘I’m here,’ I told her, holding her hand. Wanting to be with my girl, I didn’t sleep for 60 hours.
Friends and family came to visit, and Zoe and her family were a constant support. Everyone who saw Hannah’s suffering left shocked and traumatised. Slowly but surely the toxins began to fade.
After two weeks, she was allowed to leave hospital with heavy pain relief.
Four weeks on, she still has awful headaches but we hope the end is finally in sight. We’re seeing a psychologist to help process the ordeal. ‘I want to warn people,’ Hannah told me, frightened it could happen again.
That’s why we are sharing our story. The best indicator that they might be in the water is sea lice being around. Wear a stinger suit if you have any concerns.
It’s incredible to think something so tiny can do so much damage.
To help cover Hannah's medical costs, visit her Go Fund Me Hannah - Irukandji Syndrome.
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