Shark bite victim set to farewell Westmead Private Hospital after 6 months
Aug 01, 2023
Brigitte Do is set to head home to New Caledonia this month, almost six months after arriving at Westmead Private Hospital following a shark attack that left her with life-changing injuries.
Brigitte was swimming at the main beach in Noumea on January 29, as she did every day, when she was bitten from behind by a shark. After being initially treated at the local hospital ICU, Brigitte was quickly transferred to Westmead Private Hospital due to the severity of her injuries.
“The shark came from the back and bit my back, my bottom, and the back or my left thigh. It was a big shock and when I turned my head to see what was happening I saw the shark’s eyes looking at me. I tried to protect myself with my hands and the shark bit me again, taking my left hand and half of the right hand,” Brigitte said.
Since arriving at Westmead Private, Brigitte has undergone 17 surgical procedures including the reconstitution of muscles from her back and her amputated arm to her leg to ensure she could walk again.
Brigitte’s other surgeries included taking a toe from her left foot to add to her right hand to replace her missing thumb to ensure she can still grab and hold things; multiple skin grafts; and surgery to reconstitute the limb of her missing hand to a stump as well as Targeted Muscle Reinnervation to reduce the risk of phantom pain and to prepare the stump for a possible myoelectric prosthesis in the future.
Specialist Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Dr Bish Soliman, said Brigitte’s injuries were unique and severe.
“It’s very rare to see such severe injuries. They were unusual also, in that she lost her left hand and right thumb, index and middle fingers as well as her left thigh muscles and major nerve,” Dr Soliman said.
“The local doctors did an amazing job in stabilising her prior to her transferring her to Westmead Private. From there, I discussed her case with a number of different surgeons.
“We discussed leg amputation and reconstructive options with Brigitte and her family and ultimately, together we decided to pursue a reconstruction.
“Brigitte was an absolute pleasure to look after. Despite her injuries she remained pleasant, determined and always compliant. She is also lucky to have a lot of support around her to get her through the terrible injuries.”
Brigitte, who is now able to walk, said she is missing her home, her children and even her daily swims at Noumea’s main beach.
She said the most difficult part is not knowing what the future holds.
“The hardest part is realizing that my life will not be the same at all. That will be the next step after all the rehabilitation of my body, we will have to make a new beautiful life. Every day we realize that I’m able to do new things, like walking and climbing stairs, so I am happy I will be able to have a kind of autonomy. The next big thing will be the possibility of having a prosthesis for my left hand.
“I want to thank everyone at Westmead Private. The surgeons, the physios, and all the nurses gave me more than care, they showed humanity, shared stories and laughs. And we will never forget the surprise they organised for my birthday.
“I wasn’t able to get out of bed, so the nurses suggested they wheel me outside for some fresh air, when we got outside my mother and sisters were there. When I came back to my room it was decorated with flowers, balloons, lots of party stuff. And there were around 10 Westmead Private staff in the room waiting to sing me happy birthday. They had cake and lots of good things to eat. I think I was both laughing and crying.
“I know that my case is unusual and that my wounds were a bit spectacular, but the people here were very respectful of me as a person and not only as a medical case. They showed such kindness. Room 17 at Westmead Private will be for ever part of our life.”
Brigitte has recently completed her 18th and final surgery with hopes to return home at the end of July.