Survivor riding out tragedy
RELAXING in his favourite chair at his Tweed Heads West home, a bright-eyed and affable Jason Gall stands to mimic walking a tightrope before lifting his leg like a gymnast.
While it may register as seemingly innocuous to most, the act is a miraculous achievement for the sepsis survivor, whose prosthetic legs are a stark reminder of the hell endured since his world was turned upside down a little over two years ago.
"Only special people get these legs - special, co-ordinated people like me," Mr Gall said, with a laugh, about the $20,000 state-of-the-art, pin-lock prosthetic limbs that have allowed him more movement and stability.
"I've kept my sense of humour. It's easy to be happy - you adapt."
Mr Gall's ability to adapt in the face of unimaginable horror is a reflection of the life-long surfer's determination to endure from near-certain death to a point where getting back on the board is no longer a pipe dream.
Wearing the scars of a body ravaged by an insidious illness that should have cost him his life in July 2015, Mr Gall recalled a whirlwind 24 hours, which started like any other day.
"I was waiting for high tide to drop out at Snapper Rocks, so I went and saw a mate do his oysters in the morning," he said.
"I cut my finger on a little bit of oyster, but I cleaned it out straight away and went surfing.
"I caught four waves and swallowed some water, like I always do, but on the fourth wave I felt a cold coming on.
"I surfed every day so I wasn't going to push it, so I headed in. I was really cold, so I got into my Hilux and put the heater on. I was still freezing and couldn't get warm. I got home and laid down and it really started coming on."
Mr Gall's long-term partner and now full-time carer, Karen Fursman, returned home from work to find her soulmate bed-bound with a high fever.
"I monitored him all night and gave him Panadol and ibuprofen. But the next morning we got up and I couldn't believe how clear his eyes were - I thought whatever it was had left him," Ms Fursman said.
"I woke up all sweet and I was going to go surfing again," Mr Gall added.
Convincing her partner to give the surfing a miss, the pair decided to relax at home on what was becoming an increasingly hot day.
"I felt fine, but by early afternoon I was burning up and it was like a headache was coming on," Mr Gall said.
Deteriorating rapidly, Ms Fursman said it quickly became apparent that something was seriously wrong.
"He started vomiting, so I went to the chemist to get him some anti-nausea medicine. By 2.30pm, we were in the car and racing to the hospital," she said.
Arriving at Tweed Hospital suffering fever and confusion, Mr Gall jumped out of the car and dived onto the tiles to try to cool himself from severe pins and needles and burning.
"They raced him into emergency to take his blood pressure, but he couldn't even stay still," Ms Fursman said.
"They were inspecting his body for snakebites, spider bite and for any indication of poisoning, but couldn't find anything."
By 7pm, Mr Gall was in an induced coma, and would spend the next six months in hospital.
Enduring multiple operations and huge pain, Mr Gall had both his legs amputated below the knee in early August, before being transferred to Gold Coast University Hospital on August 20, where he had his left hand amputated, further leg amputations and multiple skin grafts by the end of September.
"The leg amputations were the worst, I've never seen such pain," said Ms Fursman, who suffered PTSD from the experience.
"It was bizarre to watch the progression of the sepsis, his legs were like nothing id ever seen.
"They did three operations, one on his legs to cut above sepsis, then another to go higher and reshape nerves, then further up again."
Mr Gall, despite being completely floored by high doses of ketamine, said the pain was unrelenting.
"Imagine someone getting fencing wire and tying it around your legs and cranking it - that's how it felt," he said.
After being brought out of a coma, Mr Gall was so disorientated he thought he was living on a floating barge with his staffy and a bowl of fish.
"I thought a fish had jumped up and died on my arm, it looked like a fish was stuck in there," Mr Gall said of the intense discolouration of his limbs as a result of the sepsis.
Mr Gall would endure blindness (his sight has returned), seizures, psychosis and delirium, a pinky amputation, and life-saving dialysis before eventually making his way home on December 11.
After moving to the home he now calls his "compound" in April 2016, casting a rod on the river out back is a favourite hobby, but the once great surfer and rugby league player has much bigger fish to fry.
Making amazing gains through weekly physiotherapy rehabilitation, a fundraiser was held for Mr Gall last weekend to help raise the $80,000 to $180,000 needed for a custom-made I-Limb.
The limb would allow Mr Gall to perform simple, everyday tasks like dressing himself and showering, with a GoFundMe page set up to help raise crucial assistance.
The cause of Mr Gall's sepsis remains unknown, as the high loads of antibiotics given to him during the initial infection rendered culture testing useless.
Mr Gall hopes a return to the ocean will lead to a future as an adaptive surfer.
"I'm not worried about getting back into the ocean, it's death before dishonour, bro," Mr Gall said.
"I miss it every day."
How to help
- If you would like to help Jason, donate directly on his GoFundMe page, or search 'Jason Gall' on the GoFundMe page under medical.