BILLY Fetherston was very close to not making his fifth birthday.
On Saturday he suffered a medical emergency that could have claimed his life.
As he watched his young son soak up his low-key birthday party on Sunday, Billy's father Garry couldn't shake the thought of how close his son had come to death the day before.
"In the back of our minds, (we thought) he really could have not made it to five," Mr Fetherston said.
About 25 minutes into their drive to the Murwillumbah Show for a family outing on Saturday, Mr Fetherston and his wife Suzy pulled over after Billy began to cough and scratch at his head. They then noticed he had white, raised spots on his neck.
At that point, Mr Fetherston said parental instinct kicked in and he told his wife: "Quick get him in the car, we'll get him to hospital."
The 20-minute trip to Murwillumbah Hospital felt like an eternity for Mr Fetherston, who watched his son rapidly deteriorate as his wife nursed their boy in the back seat.
"We were in the middle of nowhere, it was quite a long way from a hospital and he was going into anaphylactic shock," he said.
Watching Billy's eyes roll into the back of his head as he struggled to breathe left Mr Fetherston and his wife fighting off the "tidal wave of panic" as they drove to Murwillumbah Hospital.
"Every time I looked in the rear-view mirror he looked like ... we were losing him," he said.
Medical staff at the hospital jumped into action when Billy came through the emergency department in his mother's arms.
Ms Fetherston was told by medical staff that her son's condition was "life-threatening" as a team of nurses and a doctor worked furiously to treat the boy's reaction.
"(Garry and I) kept it together because you've got to be strong for your child who is sitting there looking at you for comfort," she said.
"It's certainly traumatic to see your child become so unwell ... and to be told it's life-threatening is quite frightening."
At the time, she had no idea what caused her "perfectly healthy" son to become so sick in the space of half an hour.
Staff then ripped off Billy's shirt in search for a tick after Ms Fetherston said one of the nurses revealed her son had a similar reaction from a tick.
They eventually found the tick on top of Billy's head - where Mrs Fetherston said her son had a tick previously, but the reaction nowhere near as severe.
After a four-hour stint in hospital, Billy returned home with a dressing over the wound from his cannula that served as harrowing reminder of his ordeal.
The doctor stressed to Billy's parents that tick allergies were common and that it was important to protect Billy, who now carries an Epipen, from suffering from another potentially deadly bite.
And the risk of tick bites is high at the family's Mullumbimby home, which is located within their banana plantation and surrounding rainforest. But the pair were committed to ensure Billy doesn't get another tick.
For now, Mrs Fetherston said she and her husband felt " just grateful (Billy) is still here" and praised the staff who "saved him at Murwillumbah hospital".
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