British tourist thanks Rotorua Hospital for saving life


Holly Lee was a "textbook" example of pulmonary embolism when she was brought into the Rotorua Hospital emergency department.

British tourist Holly Lee had spent nine years planning for her dream holiday to New Zealand.

But she never expected to add pioneering life-saving surgery to her itinerary of bungy-jumping, motorbike riding and tramping.

She was two weeks into her trip of a lifetime when she felt breathless outside the Polynesian Spa in Rotorua.

She’d bungy jumped in Queenstown, motorbiked the Lewis and Arthur Pass highways, hiked in the Catlins and kayaked on Lake Taupō.

After all that “craziness” she was looking forward to a relaxing massage.

Within minutes she was in the Rotorua Hospital emergency department in cardiac arrest and at the start of a battle for her life having experienced a pulmonary embolism – a blood clot that blocks and stops blood flow to an artery in the lung.

She’d felt breathless and was lying on the ground when a man walking past asked if she needed help.

He alerted staff who called an ambulance.

Holly had developed a blood clot in her leg and over the course of her trip it had grown and travelled towards her heart.

“I’ve worked in ICU so I’ve seen pulmonary embolisms before, but it’s rare,” said Rotorua Hospital Emergency Department Dr Ben Goodgame.

“There were so many people involved, even the paramedics did an amazing job alerting us that they had high suspicion for pulmonary embolism.

“When she arrived we were already considering that. That’s one of the reasons why she survived.”

Rotorua Hospital Emergency Medicine Head of Department Dr Suzanne Moran said Holly was a patient “I will never forget”.

“It really highlighted the chain of clinical management and it started with St John. Their expertise and seamless communication with the ED initiated that chain reaction that resulted in Holly still being alive.

“It was a matter of life and death, every link was essential and every small action made a massive difference.”

Within 10 minutes of being in hospital Holly’s heart stopped and emergency department staff began an almost seven hour effort to keep her alive.

That involved the CPR, administration of strong blood thinners and activating a “massive transfusion protocol, which is very rare”.

“There were so many specialities involved, including surgeons, radiologists and internal medicine. Everyone was on the ball,” Dr Goodgame said.

At 8.30pm that same night Holly was airlifted to Auckland City Hospital where she remained in the Intensive Care Unit for just over two weeks. She was eventually discharged on December 12.

During her stay she underwent two procedures involving new catheter equipment.

This connects to a computer system which allows doctors to pump a clot out of the arteries with minimal blood loss.

Two clots were removed.

She’s now back in the UK, but before she flew back, she returned to Rotorua Hospital and Polynesian Spa to pass on her thanks.

“Thank you doesn’t cover it,” Holly said.

“When I was wheeled into the ED I heard ‘PE’. I’ve watched enough hospital dramas and reality TV to know some medical terms.

“It was at that point I thought I was in trouble.”

Holly’s mum died when she was 10 and as a result she said she had hospital fear.

But that had also meant that she had taken out a more comprehensive travel insurance policy and had two files of her meticulously-planned itinerary back in the UK with her partner, Dave Murphy, and her sister.

Dave was called from the hospital that Friday evening. He arrived in Auckland the following Monday and spent every day at Holly’s bedside.

They left New Zealand in late December.

“I’d planned this trip for nine years,” Holly said.

“I’d been here before but with someone no longer in my life and on that visit there were compromises. I wanted to come back and see the places I hadn’t got to before.

“New Zealand is a beautiful, wonderful place to visit. After I was discharged I had at least 10 days before I was allowed to fly.

“I dared Dave to find an ugly part of New Zealand. We only got to see a little bit of the North Island but we have to come back.”

Dave said he vividly remembers the initial phone call letting him know what had happened.

“I remember Suzanne's calm voice explaining to me in a very clear manner that Holly was with her in Rotorua Hospital and she was in a very bad way.

"She explained the blood clot, the cardiac arrest and the complications of the bleeding liver, as well as Holly being transferred over to Auckland via helicopter pretty much as we were speaking.

“When we went to Rotorua Hospital all I could really say was thank you, what else is there I could say?

“Were it not for the staff's amazing efforts then I'd have been flying out to collect a body bag and her possessions.

“We both got to experience them re-living that afternoon with Holly and I spent most of it with my jaw on the floor.

“Hearing how much effort they put into keeping Holly alive and trying to get her ready to be transferred up to Auckland, I was utterly astonished but was (and will forever be) eternally grateful for their efforts.

“There simply aren't enough descriptives in the English language to express the level of gratitude I have to the Rotorua Hospital staff for keeping my soul-mate alive.”

Dave Murphy and Holly Lee after Holly's near-death experience.


About pulmonary embolism

What is pulmonary embolism?

Pulmonary embolism (pūkahukahu poketoto) is a blockage in one of the blood vessels in your lungs. It most commonly happens when a blood clot that has formed in the leg travels to the lungs where it gets lodged in a blood vessel.

What causes pulmonary embolism?

Most often pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from the deep veins of the legs. Rarely, the clot can come from another part of the body.

Blood clots that form in the deep veins of the body are known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). They often develop after long periods of inactivity, such as when you are immobilised after surgery or illness.

What are the symptoms of pulmonary embolism?

The symptoms of pulmonary embolism can be different for different people, depending on the size of the clots, how much of your lung is involved and whether you have underlying lung or heart disease.

Seek medical attention if you experience sudden shortness of breath which gets worse with exertion, chest pain or a cough, which may produce bloody or blood-streaked phlegm or spit.