When Billy Fetherston woke up on Saturday morning he was a happy, healthy, funny kid looking forward to his fifth birthday party the very next day.
But within the scope of 25 minutes Billy’s parents watched as their little boy developed a cough and soon could barely breathe at all.
Billy, five, had been bitten by a tick – and it nearly killed him.
The family was just 10 minutes into their drive on the way to the Murwillumbah Show, 40 minutes away from their Northern Rivers home, when Billy began to cough.
Billy Fetherston, of Northern Rivers, had to fight for his life just a day before his fifth birthday after he had an allergic reaction to a tick
‘He was immediately congested,’ Billy’s mum Suzy, 48, told Daily Mail Australia. ‘I looked back and, at first, didn’t think much of it. But it kept happening and seemed to escalate.’
Billy’s father Garry pulled over to the side of the road and Suzy gave Billy a sip of water and carried him for a moment, trying to figure out what was wrong.
‘He just kept on coughing and coughing, and then I noticed these raised areas of skin on his neck, back, and tummy,’ she recalled.
‘He started to scratch and he started to cry.’
The couple decided they should take Billy to the nearest hospital, which was 13km away.
But the family was in the middle of nowhere, and each metre felt like an eternity for Suzy and Garry as Billy’s condition rapidly deteriorated.
Billy’s parents Garry and Suzy were just 10 minutes into their drive on the way to the Murwillumbah Show, 40 minutes away from their home, when he began to cough
Billy began wheezing and his eyes were rolling to the back of his head. By the time the family arrived at the hospital he was going into anaphylactic shock
‘It was really quite terrifying,’ Suzy said. ‘He began wheezing, his eyes were closing.’
‘He was in his car seat but I was trying to comfort him as best as I could, trying to get him to respond to me and make sure he stayed awake.’
‘Garry was really concentrating on driving while being terrified about what he was seeing in the rearview mirror.’
Only 25 minutes had passed since Billy first started to cough when the family arrived at the Murwillumbah Hospital. But he was going into anaphylactic shock.
A crowd of nurses and doctors immediately surrounded Billy as they rushed him into the emergency room, and a cannula was immediately put into his arm.
‘It was the first time he really started crying,’ Suzy said. ‘He was extremely brave through the whole thing, but that did hurt.’
One nurse recalled that her son had a similar reaction when he was bit by a tick, and the team immediately began to search Billy – finding one on his head
The doctors then put a mask over Billy’s face to give him adrenaline as a doctor and three nurses tried to figure out what could have caused such a strong reaction.
One nurse recalled that her son had a similar reaction when he was bit by a tick, and the team immediately began to search Billy – finding one on his head.
They promptly removed it, and had Billy continue to sit with the mask on his face until the adrenaline ran out.
Billy was monitored for the next four hours, and then given an EpiPen
‘When we first went into the hospital, he was red, white, and blue. He didn’t look like Billy,’ Suzy recalled.
‘It was really, really frightening. I really had to fight back tears. But he was looking to us for strength and we kept it together for him.’
Billy was monitored for the next four hours, with nurses and doctors constantly checking on him.
The family was then sent on their way with an EpiPen, as a doctor told Suzy and Garry that it had been a life-threatening situation.
‘The doctor said Billy will be living with a life-threatening allergy, and that we really need to make sure that he is not bitten by a tick again,’ she said.
This was the fourth time Billy had been bitten by a tick, and the family realised each time his reaction had been worse and worse.
‘The first tick, there was no trouble, second tick no trouble. With the third tick, he had a tiny one in his head and his face became extremely swollen,’ Suzy recalled.
‘We removed it and his face went back to normal. The fourth tick was this time. His reaction to ticks has grown in intensity to become anaphylaxis.’
Suzy said it was ‘surreal’ to watch her little boy turn another year older just a day after such a harrowing ordeal. The family plan to now check him every day for ticks
Suzy believes that Billy contracted the tick the day before his reaction while playing on the grass outside their home, located within a banana plantation and surrounded by a rainforest.
‘I’m really worried now,’ Suzy said. ‘We’re just going to have to be really proactive and check him every day and find the tick before the reaction takes place.’
‘We’ll just have to be really, very vigilant.’
Billy turned five the next day, and all his friends arrived at his home to celebrate.
Suzy said it was ‘surreal’ to watch her little boy turn another year older just a day after such a harrowing ordeal.
‘It was a pretty traumatic and terrifying ordeal,’ she said. ‘You just sort of wake up in the night and hug him and in the morning it’s his birthday and you celebrate him that bit more.’
‘It was a real joy to see him charging around with his friends, it was really, really lovely. We’re so lucky and grateful he was there for his birthday.’