Visiting St John of God specialist warns of road trauma

Senior rehabilitation physician Dr Vaidya Bala is the latest specialist to take up a part-time position at St John of God Hospital.

Senior rehabilitation physician Dr Vaidya Bala is the latest specialist to take up a part-time position at St John of God Hospital.

DR Vaidya Bala shudders when he sees a child riding a bicycle without a helmet. 

His office at St John of God Hospital is where people with brain injuries start their long recoveries.

Dr Bala is the newest specialist to arrive in the south-west, albeit on a part-time basis each Tuesday. 

His title barely fits on to a name tag — a senior rehabilitation consultant physician. 

That makes him the first specialist people see awakening from a coma. 

Dr Bala is adamant people would drive more carefully if they could see inside his office. 

The majority of work at his Melbourne clinic comes from the same source — car accidents. 

“In Melbourne close to 80 per cent would be patients with motor trauma,” the specialist said. 

It takes an average of three months to “stabilise” a patient but often it can take longer.

Dr Bala can sum up his job fairly easily. 

“You have to know how to get someone back to themselves,” he said. 

The toughest part of Dr Bala’s job is delivering hard news on the limits of recovery. 

“It is a very difficult meeting because it’s very daunting,” he said. 

“It’s all about setting goals in terms of medical stability and functional independence and getting them back to driving or getting them back to work.”

One recent patient was a 17-year-old who was in a vegetative state for three months. 

“The parents were devastated because he was actually doing year 12.” 

His brain was not responding to the medication. 

“But this fellow woke up and his parents were delighted ... the prognosis for survival was good, but the prognosis for independent living was bad.” 

In an average week the job can swing anywhere from remarkable recoveries to feeling powerless. 

“You can be absolutely powerless and there’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. 

In the long term, Dr Bala wants to establish a specialised unit at St John of God Hospital, with the sole purpose of treating victims of severe car accidents. 

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