Sleep easy

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Noah Douglas was in dire need of surgery to treat his sleep apnoea. Doctors from Brisbane Private Hospital stepped in and treated him for free so he wouldn’t have to wait in the public system

Seven-year-old Noah Douglas used to fall asleep in class and lacked alertness. He was always drowsy and suffered from chronic fatigue. Noah’s constant tiredness was not a result of him burning himself out playing games or staying up all night reading.

Instead, he suffered from sleep apnoea, a sleep disorder characterised by repeated episodes of airway obstruction during sleep, due to relaxation of the tongue and airway-muscles. The condition causes snoring, waking unrefreshed, daytime tiredness, and waking during the night, choking or gasping for air.

But thanks to doctors at Brisbane Private Hospital, who came together to operate on the boy to treat his sleep apnoea, Noah can sleep easy now. ENT specialist Russel Bird and anaesthetist John Lodge at Brisbane Private Hospital surgically removed Noah’s tonsils and adenoids and the hospital bore the cost of the operation.

“Noah was in urgent need of surgery so we didn’t want him waiting in the public system,” Dr Bird said. Noah is a changed boy now. And his parents are delighted with the result of the surgery. “We are thrilled to have our little boy back,” they said. “Before the surgery, Noah would be tired and cranky in the morning and was having trouble coping at kindergarten and school. He couldn’t even eat properly,” they added.

“All signs of obstructed sleep have disappeared and Noah is eating like a horse. His school teacher noticed the difference immediately after the surgery and reported that Noah no longer falls asleep in class and his learning progress is much better,” Dr Bird said.

Dr Bird met Noah in his hometown, Hervey Bay, when he was visiting Galangoor Duwalami Primary Health Care Service through the Urban Specialist Outreach Assistance Program (USOAP) that sends specialists to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in urban locations.

According to Noah’s mother, Cassie Douglas, Dr Bird asked all the right questions and diagnosed Noah’s condition almost instantly. “When Dr Bird first saw him, he could predict almost all of Noah’s behaviours – like he would be the first at the dinner table and last to leave. It was like he was reading our minds. It was such a relief to know that someone understood our concerns and knew what to do about it.”

Dr Bird said Noah’s condition was serious at the time he diagnosed him with obstructive sleep apnoea, and that the only cure was surgical removal of his tonsils and adenoids. The boy had been born prematurely, which had resulted in intellectual impairment; the sleep apnoea had compounded this condition. “Noah is a lovely little boy who was struggling to cope with life because of severe and chronic tiredness. The cause of his tiredness was very large tonsils and adenoids which were impairing his airway during sleep and causing Noah to suffer from sleep apnoea.”

The doctor added Noah’s obstruction had reached a point where he was halting breathing in his sleep, which was potentially dangerous. During sleep, Noah’s brain was not receiving enough oxygen, which resulted in symptoms like loud snoring, restlessness and frequent apnoea episodes. “He even had difficulty eating solids because his tonsils and adenoids were so large that they were blocking the food passage. The only cure was surgical removal of tonsils and adenoids to cure his condition, so we went ahead and operated.”

Ms Douglas said the surgery had saved her son and her family from the tough time they were having due to Noah’s condition. “We are grateful to all the people involved in the surgery and really happy to have everything back to normal. Noah has improved a lot and it’s a huge relief for the entire family as we were all suffering through his condition,” she said.

Dr Bird has been part of the Deadly Ears – a Queensland Government funded organisation – for many years. As part of the team, he travels to remote sites in Queensland and the Torres Strait to treat Indigenous citizens, mainly children with ear disease. Deadly Ears makes approximately 20 trips to outback Queensland each year, offering medical, surgical and educational help to Indigenous communities. Dr Bird also volunteers for the USOAP, run by General Practice Queensland, where he spends a day every month in Hervey Bay with Indigenous children.

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