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Two weeks in ICU, 70 days in hospital for bashed teenager

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After 70 days in hospital, a Queensland teenager has emerged with an important message: One hit can kill. He’s just lucky it didn’t.

Day 16: Josh Waite wakes from a two-week-long induced coma. His injuries, a fractured skull and badly damaged brain, are so bad the 17-year-old’s parents have been warned he might not recognise them.

It’s two weeks since he was allegedly brutally bashed outside a McDonald’s north of Brisbane on May 12, left fighting for life after a kick to the head. 

A piece of his skull has been removed to relieve the pressure on a rapidly swelling brain.

After two aborted attempts, doctors are finally confident enough to try to bring him back to consciousness.

They’ve prepared Andy and Rachel Waite for the worst-case scenario. His injuries affect the parts of the brain responsible for memory and even personality. He may not be the boy they remember and he may not remember them.

“When he opened his eyes mate, the floodgates opened,” Mr Waite says.

“It was,” he has to pause here, emotion welling up, “I still see it like it was yesterday.”

“All we ever wanted was our boy back.

“We always said no matter what the condition was with Joshy, to have our boy back, it was all going to be part of that journey.”

Later on in the morning, Mr Waite walks back into his son’s room and sees him there, tubes sticking out in every direction, but awake.

“I was just leaning over onto his bed by him and he opened his eyes and he lifted his right hand up and he put it on the side of me face,” he says.

“Then I just broke down and reached over and gave him the biggest hug.”

It’s the first time former New Zealanders Andy and Rachel Waite are sure their “loving, caring young man” is going to make it.

“Right off the bat, that night (at a Redcliffe McDonald’s) we thought we were going to lose him, so it was quite emotional, quite tough,” Mr Waite says.

“Obviously Joshy’s a fighter, mate. The strength he has within, mate, he’s a battler.

“They were able to stabilise him into an induced coma in emergency, then put him into ICU where he spent the next 16 days, mate, which was one hell of an ugly journey.”

Communication is limited at first, according to Ms Waite, a thumbs-up here, a thumbs-down there, before Josh’s words eventually start returning.

They’re garbled at first, partly due to the massive brain injury and partly thanks to all the devices keeping him alive.

“It was really, really hard,” Ms Waite says.

“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster really.  

“We didn’t’ know whether he was going to live or die so I guess you’re preparing for the worst but hoping he’s going to wake up and he’s going to be ok.”

Day 38: It’s a Friday. The Waites hate Fridays. They’re the days when things seem to go wrong for Josh, just like the night of the alleged attack.

The brave teenager, still in hospital more than a month later, suffers another seizure thanks to a bleed and pressure build-up on the brain.

He is rushed into theatre where the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital’s “magical” neurosurgery team operate on him for a third time.

“(I’m) extremely grateful because without them, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” Josh says.

“The team in that unit, mate, are just absolutely, they’re just amazing people,” Mr Waite adds.

“What they did medically, I mean we spent most of our time – it was nearly 24/7 – by his side, in an induced coma state and paralysed state.

“There was a lot of negative change to his condition, which we witnessed on a few of those occasions, sitting by his bedside.

“A couple of those occasions there I thought I was going to lose my boy.”

Day 71: It’s July 21, the one positive Friday of this whole ordeal, and Josh is home but the long road to recovery stretches out in front of him.

He can’t remember anything about the alleged attack. Josh and his Dad moved house a few weeks before that night and he couldn’t recall a thing about the new place until he got there.

He’s walking and talking at about 80 per cent of where he used to be, according to his dad, but the emotional scars run deep.

Returning to “normality” is still a long way off and even making it into the outside world for a walk with his dad or down to the park is a struggle.

“I still manage to do it but the thoughts that run through my head before I do it, it’s just kind of like this little voices in the back of my head telling me not to go out but I’ve to to push through it.

“I’m pretty scared in public.”

Day 93 and beyond: Josh still goes to rehab once a week. Mr Waite says the transition from full-time hospital care to living at home, has been tough, especially when he has to go out to work during the day.

The lack of support services, or perhaps the lack of information about where to find them, could do with improvement, he says.

By Sunday, Josh is relaxing at his mum’s house after a busy weekend, speaking to media in an attempt to take one positive away from the night that changed his life.

“The one-hit-can-kill thing really does stand and I want to try and get my message out there so everybody knows that it is real and it’s not just some freak accident that happens,” he says.

“(I was) pretty lucky.”

Mr Waite is still angry about the “cowardly” attack on his boy.

He’s full of praise for the way the authorities have handled this case, charging Kippa-Ring teen Jake Law-Cobbo with grievous bodily harm.

But speaking generally, he doesn’t believe the legal consequences are strong enough to stop people committing violent crimes.

“People going around in packs, in gangs. I don’t think the consequence truly reflects what the penalty should be,” he says.



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