RYAN'S RULE: Terry Saunders with his son Ryan whose death was not in vain, the rule made in is honour has helped thousands.
RYAN'S RULE: Terry Saunders with his son Ryan whose death was not in vain, the rule made in is honour has helped thousands.

Four-year-old's death gives a voice to thousands in need

HOLDING the hands of hospital patients in immense pain is the spirit of four-year-old Ryan Saunders, whose death changed Queensland's health system.

In 2007, Ryan died at Rockhampton Hospital from an undiagnosed streptococcal infection, which led to toxic shock syndrome.

While Ryan cried in pain, the concerns of his parents were allegedly ignored by doctors for several hours before he lost his life.

Ryan's father Terry Saunders described it as the worst time of his life, but the fact Ryan's death wasn't in vain gives him comfort.

Since 2013, his death has given a voice to 3753 people who feel their welfare concerns were not being heard by medical professions, through the creation of Ryan's Rule.

Ryan's Rule is a three step process to support patients of any age, their families and carers, to raise concerns if a patient's health condition is becoming worse or not improving as well as expected.

Ryan's death has changed Queensland Health for the better .
Ryan's death has changed Queensland Health for the better .

Mr Saunders wished the rule was available to him when Ryan was in hospital.

"There were often times where we thought this happens to other people and 'God it's happening to us now'," Mr Saunders said

"It was terrible."

After Ryan's death his parents worked for four years to change the system to give families more authority.

"It's a sweet and sour feeling, but something bad has to happen before there is change," Mr Saunders said.

He hoped the rule would prevent more parents watching their child die a painful death.

"Our biggest thing was our concerns weren't being heard at the time," Mr Saunders said.

"Parents shouldn't be there watching their child die with nothing being done.

"Hopefully it won't happen any more. Well it can't with Ryan's rule."

Ryan Saunders will always be missed by his family, but they are proud of the change he has made.
Ryan Saunders will always be missed by his family, but they are proud of the change he has made.

While Ryan will never play his first football game, have his first girlfriend or even start school, his death is assurance that patients in hospital rooms across Queensland will not be silenced.

"I have the feeling that he is everywhere," Mr Saunders said.

Imagining what life would have been like if Ryan didn't die breaks Mr Saunders heart, but hearing the change his son is making makes him feel close to him.

"There have been people contact us that have used Ryan's Rule and thanked us for persevering through it," he said

"It's great that there are people using it and getting the right results and saving lives."

Sharing stories of the change Ryan has made is also a lasting connection between Mr Saunders and Ryan's mother Donna, who have since separated.

"It's amazing that something good has come out of a bad thing," Mr Saunders said.

"His name is still there and it's a great legacy."

Ryan changes Queensland Health

  • Ryan's Rule was developed in response to the death of Ryan Saunders, who was undiagnosed.
  • The rule gives more authority to patients and families who have welfare concerns.
  • The rule is a three step process to support patients of any age, their families and carers, to raise concerns if a patient's health condition is becoming worse or not improving as well as expected.

Mr Saunders said Queensland Health kept in contact with him about the rule.

"They keep us in the loop and if they think of doing something with Ryan's Rule they keep us involved," he said.

A Queensland Health spokesperson said Ryan's Rule was a success.

"The introduction of Ryan's Rule has been a significant step in our approach to improving patient safety," a spokesperson said.

"Ryan's Rule is working precisely as it was prescribed - to empower people to raise concerns about the health care they or their family members are receiving."

The spokesperson said Ryan's Rule was an example of progression in the system.

"More than 12 million patient services are undertaken in Queensland's public health system each year and the overwhelming majority result in excellent patient outcomes," the spokesperson said.

"It's important we continuously look for ways to improve our processes so the health care we provide remains among the best in the world."

While Mr Saunders has no choice other than to live with the silver lining, he will never recover from Ryan's death.

He keeps a small folded piece of bark that Ryan made into a gun at his home and has Ryan's photo tattooed on his arm.

But thanks to Ryan other parents may never have to face Mr Saunders' reality.

Mr Saunders had one message for parents who felt their concerns were not being heard by medical professionals.

"Evoke Ryan's Rule because then they've got to listen," Mr Saunders said.

"Don't think that you're alone."

Mr Saunders now lives in Yeppoon and thinks about Ryan every day.



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