My Dad is a hero…
(This story was also retold in General Conference, Apr 2006)
It was hailed as miracle surgery that saved the life of a six-year-old boy in the Chathams.
A doctor had to drill into the boy’s skull to relieve pressure on the brain from a terrible accident.
But such great deeds from 30 years ago had been forgotten until last week when an Australian doctor used an electric drill to do the same for a teenager.
But for the New Zealand doctor that would have been luxury, all he had was a hand drill.
The New Zealand operation was carried out back in 1976 by Dr Neil Hutchison, who was somewhat understated about his achievements.
“I didn’t mind too much, it was something I hadn’t done before as you said, but it is not too difficult,” Dr Hutchison told media at the time. “(It was) a challenge compared to some of the things that you might expect over here.”
Six-year-old Shane Prescott had a terrible accident while playing on a farm trailer, where the heavy tow boom had fallen onto his head.
Shane was on a remote farm and had to be transported in the back of a small Landrover to the Chatham Islands cottage hospital.
There was one surgery room and four nuns who acted as nurses.
And before the doctor could operate he needed blood.
“I got six pints of blood drained from the locals and I cross matched all of that,” Dr Hutchison said. “In the meantime he was deteriorating and there was no time to waste. I seem to remember that we started at 6 o’clock at night. I had a fossick through the cupboard and I found an interesting looking instrument.. I had never seen one before, it was like a corkscrew thing with a little circular saw thing on the bottom. You just work it with your hand and it was for drilling holes in bone.”
Dr Hutchison had to relieve the pressure from a bleed on Shane’s brain and that meant drilling a series of holes in the skull.
As he operated, Wellington-based neurosurgeon Dr Graham Martin was giving instructions over the phone.
Waiting outside was Shane’s father Alby, who had no idea what the doctor was doing.
“We were sitting there waiting, hoping,” Mr Prescott says. “And then we heard him yell out and looked at one another and smiled and said he’s alive.”
After six hours of hand-drilling surgery, Shane was stable. And the next day he was flown to Wellington to have further surgery and start his recovering.
But the news was already out about this miracle in the Chathams.
“I remember being in Wellington Hospital staying there for a while and just the media and camera crews and that sport of thing coming to my school,” Shane recalls.
Shane is now 39 and leads a normal life as an electrician, but he still bears the scars from that day.
While soon after the surgery, Dr Hutchison left the Chathams for a life in Auckland.
However he often wondered what had happened to Shane, so four years ago they reunited.
“I had thought a lot about him over the years and had wondered how he was getting on,” Dr Hutchison says. “He was a little boy then, and I met this fellow and he was an electrician and an adult older than I was when I did the operation.”
“I thanked him for saving my life because I really appreciated that,” Mr Prescott says. “He’s a nice guy obviously, but it was amazing to meet him again.”
But Dr Hutchison says looking back, it’s not something he wants to be faced with again.
“That’s once in an occasional lifetime that one,” he says. “But it did teach me to put my best foot forward and give everything my best shot.”