Nineteen-year-old Katherine slipped into a blue hospital gown, pulled her hair into a medical cap and stepped into fabric shoe coverings.
Trying to hold back tears, she somberly entered ICU at Monash Hospital in Melbourne before making it to her best friend’s deathbed.
Katherine was given just five minutes to say goodbye to Meseret before her 17-year-old friend’s life support was turned off.
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Meseret had what doctors labelled as fatal injuries, the victim of an apparent hit-and-run in which she was struck at speeds of up to 80kph and left to die.
Unable to contain her emotions at seeing her critically injured friend sustained by machines, the distraught Katherine began begging her friend to wake up.
And then a single tear rolled down Meseret’s face.
“I wasn’t giving up on her,” Katherine tells 7Life.
Switching off life
Seeing her best friend on that fateful day in 2001 is an image Katherine can’t forget.
“I got a phone call from (Meseret’s uncle) telling me to get to the hospital and say goodbye,” Katherine recalls.
“I knew I needed to be strong. I was told I had just a few minutes before they disconnected her.”
Once dressed in her PPE, Katherine was quickly briefed on Meseret’s condition before she was taken to her bedside.
“I remember opening the door and just seeing all the machines – so many machines,” she tears up.
“I remember just looking at the machines pumping her chest up and down, I have never seen that many in my life.”
Meseret was suffering internal injuries including a collapsed lung and numerous broken bones.
With no brain activity, she was officially declared brain dead.
Katherine struggled to take in the comprehensively shocking appearance of her best friend’s battered body.
“Her legs and arms were in plaster, she was bruised all over and had blood on her neck and hands,” she recalls.
“She was breathing through this hole in her throat, they had cut her hair and she had stitches all over her head.
“I was in shock.”
Katherine instinctively went to hold Meseret’s hands but both were wrapped in plaster.
Instead, she gently touched one of her exposed fingers ad began talking to her.
“I just was looking at the machines and I asked her if she could hear me,” Katherine says.
“She didn’t respond so I said, ‘If you can hear me, squeeze my hand’.
“She still didn’t respond.”
Overcome with emotion, Katherine began begging Meseret to wake up.
“I just kept saying over and over, ‘Please don’t leave me, you are my best friend. Please don’t go, just stay here’,” she says.
“Then I saw a tear run down her face.
“I screamed at her, ‘I know you can hear me, move your hand if you can’ – and she wriggled her left hand.
“I looked at the machines and I saw her heartbeat getting higher.”
Letting go of Meseret’s finger, Katherine ran outside and told her family what she had just seen.
“I told them she was crying and her heartbeat changed and she moved her finger,” Katherine says.
They didn’t believe her.
But Katherine didn’t give up, eventually convincing Meseret’s uncle to go to see Meseret with her.
There, Katherine again pleaded with Meseret to wriggle her finger.
And, with her uncle there, she did.
Her uncle ran to call a doctor and they all raced to Meseret’s side.
The family was then immediately ushered outside as medical staff surrounded the teen and began running extensive tests.
“They (doctors) told us she had brain waves that weren’t there before,” Katherine says.
A treatment plan was put in place, as Meseret continued to fight for life.
Visiting her friend almost every day, Katherine revealed her excitement at the slow but incredible progress Meseret was making.
And, after four months in the ICU and special care, doctors agreed she was ready to start breathing on her own.
Under close watch, Meseret was slowly unhooked from the machines that once kept her alive.
‘She opened her eyes’
“She started to breathe on her own and then she moved her toes and all of a sudden she opened her eyes,” Katherine smiles.
“I asked her if she could hear me to blink once, and she did.”
Doctors expressed their ongoing concern for Meseret – while her progression was remarkable, she was still likely to suffer long-term brain injuries.
They predicted she would be a quadriplegic.
These days, Meseret confides to Katherine that she recalls every moment of her stay in the ICU.
“She remembers doctors telling her that she wouldn’t make it,” Katherine reveals.
“She could hear me saying goodbye to her and said all she wanted to do was scream and tell everyone she was alive.”
But for Meseret, that wasn’t her reality.
Later, in rehab, and with her family and Katherine’s support, she was able to take her first, tentative steps.
Her remarkable recovery was helped greatly by the scores of get well cards, from her Year 12 peers, that plastered the walls of her hospital room.
Meseret missed her high school graduation but promised herself that would be the last event she would ever fail to attend.
With intensive rehab – slowly putting one foot in front of the other – the brave teenager was eventually able to walk.
Ultimately, she could even run.
“It was such an emotional time but she did it – she was running,” Katherine beams.
Meseret went on to prove her specialists wrong – and she has no lasting injuries from the accident 21 years ago.
She married the love of her life, with whom she has three children, and lives in Melbourne with her family.
And after more than two decades years of friendship, Meseret and Katherine remain close friends.
Editor’s note: Meseret did not wish to be interviewed for this story but gave 7Life her permission to publish Katherine’s account.
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