A tragic accident turned a dream trip to Greece into a nightmare for father-of-five Babis Armenis.
“Dad was very much looking forward to it,” son Nik Armenis told Neos Kosmos.
Five months after he set of for the homeland his son explained that “it’s been probably the hardest time anyone in my family had to go through.”
In April, Gold Coast resident Mr Armenis paid a long overdue visit – the first since the pandemic – to his homeland, Corfu, to reconnect with his mother, sister and relatives there.
“My dad is 100 per cent Greek from Kerkyra. He’s from a village called Yiannades and he loves it, he misses it a lot. He lived there a lot backwards and forwards,” his son explained.
Babis was planning to stay there till June, helping his 90-year-old mum renovate his parents’ home, a three-storey traditional stone building.
He was on the staircase of that building when on 23 May he suffered an ischemic stroke.
“The stroke caused him to fall down the staircase and hit his head on concrete. This fall then caused a subarachnoid haemorrhage in the brain.”
He is in Australia now, still hospitalised, with a long recovery road ahead and without realistic chances of ever getting back to his previous state.
The Armenis family has stayed optimistic and by his side, albeit exhausted from the tragic series of events which took an irreversible toll on the 59-year-old’s health and has cost the family around half a million dollars so far.
AT THE GREEK HOSPITAL
“If we hadn’t taken dad back home to Australia, he would have died in Greece,” Nik says and stands by his statement while admitting that the Corfu General Hospital ICU staff “kept him alive” with a life-saving operation.
“The problem is once you go to the general ward care is inadequate. Intensive Care has good staff, good machines, but there’s only five beds. My mum flew over and luckily she and my auntie are nurses.
“They did all the basic nursing care that the nurses either didn’t know, didn’t have the time or just didn’t do. So things like turning the patient. Because if you get the bed sores, and they open up, good luck, you’re gonna get infection and that’s what that’s what’s gonna kill you. They were there 24/7 and I could see their health especially my mum’s started deteriorating as well.”
“We also had to buy most of our own medical supplies due to the hospital not having anything.”
Babis had a craniotomy, an operation where they remove a piece of the skull and let the brain swell out of the skull.
“If this was not done, he would not have survived.”
But Nik says there was a 30-hour delay between the time of the accident and the operation.
“It’s hard to know if the delay caused any issues.”
After falling from the staircase, Babis was luckily found by a friend he was working with. But upon his transfer to the hospital, triage staff did not become aware of his stroke.
The second stroke came soon after he was moved into the ICU, thanks to an intervention by his sister who knew the medical staff.
Babis was induced into a coma and stayed in the Corfu hospital for about six weeks.
“I don’t blame the staff,” says Nik.
“They do what they can under the circumstances, with minimal equipment and resources. Of course not all doctors were good, but that’s not the case in Australia either. The difference however between the health care systems was incredible.”
While in Greece, Babis’ family was getting worried he wasn’t receiving the care he needed. By the time he returned to Australia, he had lost 38 kilos.
A $420,000 REPATRIATION FLIGHT
Any attempt to transfer Babis to an Athens hospital ended unsuccessfully. Nik says that private hospitals would not accept a patient at that stage of recovery.
Babis’ family decided to have him flown back to Australia with the help of aeromedical organisation, Lifeflight.
“Imagine an ICU on a plane,” says Nik, referring to some of the costs included in the whopping $420,000 bill: fuel, medical staff, frequent stops due to the plane’s small size, fire brigade on every stop, employing several pilots, equipment.
The family set up a ‘Bring Babis Home’ appeal on Go Fund Me, garnering $87,000.
Nik took a $200,000 loan, his mum borrowed $100,000 from a family friend, and with all five siblings chipping in along with Babis’ and Michelle’s savings, they managed to put together another $120,000.
“Luckily dad has an investment property. So, we’re going to sell it of course, because they still owe the bank in mortgages and my dad’s a painter so he’s not going to be able to work again. And my mum will have to look after my dad full-time. She’s not going to be able to work either.”
LESSONS FROM A TRAGEDY
Neos Kosmos asked Nik what they would want to know beforehand as a family facing this struggle and any learnings they can share.
1. “I think looking after your health is the biggest one.”
“My dad smoked throughout his life, anytime he went to Greece he’d smoke a lot. Smoking is a terrible factor for strokes. So he should have looked after his health better.”
2. Travel insurance
Babis’ initial application for a travel insurance fell through due to a preexisting condition.
“Definitely having insurance may have helped. But I think he also was very much a person that thought ‘I’m a Greek, I’ll be okay here as well’ thinking he would be fine as he was paying his insurance in Greece.”
Nik believes however that even if his father had travel insurance, it would still be uncertain whether his repatriation flight would be covered. “Check for the fine print on what’s covered and what’s not,” he advises.
3. “Have an emergency plan for when you’re overseas”
“Check to see your nearest hospital, especially if you’re on a small island and who you’d need to talk to if you need to go to Athens[…]I think in dad’s case there was an element of bad luck because of the fall which made everything worse. If he just had the stroke probably none of this would have played out and the doctors there would have been good enough.”
4. Know the basics
“I think we take for granted the health system in Australia, but other countries actually don’t have that. If you have a bad experience like that, even knowing basic stuff can help, you know, things like if someone’s laying in bed all day, you need to turn them side to side as that might save their life.”
As we were speaking with Nik on Tuesday afternoon, his father was undergoing a surgery replacing the skull piece that was removed to let the brain swell outside of the skull.
The operation went well, and Babis spent the night in ICU before being transferred to the general ward.
For the Armenis family, the woes are not over but life keeps moving forward.
Nik’s sister will give birth in November, and his brother’s second baby is to follow in February.
A few weeks ago, Nik and his wife got married at the Gold Coast Hospital, opting for a less fancy ceremony to ensure Babis would be present and involved.
“It was a happy-sad day,” he says.
The family has kept the Go Fund Me page active hoping they can get some financial help for Babis’ long recovery road.
If you wish to support them visit www.gofundme.com/f/bring-babis-home