Flight for life

November 1, 2016

Flight for life

When it comes to extreme illnesses and tragic accidents, a few minutes mean the difference between life and death, and while they often go unnoticed by the general public, the team at RACQ LifeFlight Rescue is proof that not all guardian angels have wings – some have rotor blades.

They charge through the skies in their quest to save lives, yet they remain the unsung heroes of the emergency services, their focus and dedication toward their vital work meaning they often fly under the radar.

But as we head into the ‘silly season’ – a time when accidents are rife thanks to a surge in people on the roads – the team at RACQ LifeFlight Rescue is urging the public to show support during their busiest time of the year by donating to their cause.

From winching the injured and sick from precarious places and airlifting them to hospital, to transferring critically ill patients from regional and remote areas to the more advanced and better-equipped hospitals in Brisbane, for thousands of men, women and children, a ride in a RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter is the reason they are alive today.

RACQ Lifeflight

This was the case for nine-year-old Bailey Teed – a lively and smart young boy with a passion for soccer, whose life would have been cut tragically short four years ago were it not for the incredible work of the Sunshine Coast RACQ LifeFlight Rescue team.

Chatting with Bailey’s mother, local family lawyer Michelle Bloomer, it’s clear just how close she came to losing her child, her eyes regularly flitting gratefully over to him as she shares their terrifying story.

It was during the January school holidays, leading up to his fifth birthday in 2012, when Bailey complained of an earache and began feeling ill. Despite having taken Panadol to soothe what Michelle was sure would be nothing more than a harmless headache, Bailey continued to complain, growing irritable before eventually falling asleep.

They say it costs about $12,000 to save someone’s life and I think I would have donated about that much since it happened because I’m so grateful for what they did.”

But when she woke him mere hours later, his soaring temperature set off alarm bells in Michelle’s head – so she rushed him to Nambour General Hospital. There, Michelle says they initially thought he had appendicitis, keeping him in overnight while awaiting the results of his blood tests. But the bacterial meningitis he was diagnosed with the following morning proved to be far more dangerous.

“They started treatment straight away but by that afternoon he’d already had convulsions and some seizures,” says Michelle. “At the beginning it was a case of watching and waiting to see what would happen, but his condition deteriorated very quickly and he was what they call ‘coning’ (where the brain swells over the brainstem).”

Michelle says it was then that they called in the team from RACQ LifeFlight (CareFlight at the time) to airlift him to Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital (formerly the Royal Children’s Hospital) in Brisbane – a trip she says they were unable to guarantee he would survive.

“I didn’t realise how serious the whole situation was until after; the whole thing happened so quickly it was a bit surreal,” explains Michelle. “One minute we were there in the morning and it was sort of like, ‘Can’t we just go home?’, because I didn’t think it was anything serious, and then the next minute you’re being told to get all your family to the hospital now so they can say their goodbyes to him.”

For Bailey, a 30-minute flight surrounded by experienced paediatric doctors instead of an hour-and-a-half long drive is the turning point that saved his life.

“They were brilliant,” says Michelle. “They spoke to me at Nambour, reassured me that they’d do everything they could, told me in detail what they’d be doing, explained why they went and picked up the team first, and then when they landed in Brisbane, rang me straight away and said, ‘This is what’s happened, he’s fine, he’s here,’ and for that last leg of the drive to the hospital, I was in a much better state.”

Bailey’s tale is just one of over 44,000 rescue missions carried out by RACQ LifeFlight Rescue statewide in the 35 years since its inception in 1981; 1864 of these taking place over the 2015/16 recorded period alone. That same time frame has also seen the Sunshine Coast base become one of the busiest services in Queensland with 511 missions undertaken – with more than half of those being urgent hospital transfers, like Bailey.

RACQ LifeFlight Sunshine Coast base manager Brent Chamberlain says that while he has become more immune to the dramatic nature of his job over the years, there are some cases that stick with him, and it’s all a matter of being prepared and equipped for anything.

Brent Chamberlain with daughter Alice
Brent Chamberlain with daughter Alice

“A day in the life of a pilot here is one you never know where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do. You could be doing a standard interfacility transfer and other times you might be out the back of the Glasshouse Mountains winching someone off the side of a cliff, or out at sea winching someone off a boat,” he says. “Picking up kids – I’ve got kids myself and that in particular always hits home.”

Though they receive some funding from the government and their major sponsor RACQ, LifeFlight Rescue relies heavily on the generosity of the public.

“You don’t realise how much it costs until they tell you,” says Michelle. “They say it costs about $12,000 to save someone’s life and I think I would have donated about that much since it happened because I’m so grateful for what they did.”

Bailey’s story is proof that you never know when you might need LifeFlight’s help, so next time you hear the whir of their helicopter overhead, remember that by donating, you’re helping them save lives – anyone, anywhere, anytime.

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue crews will be on duty 24/7 right across the summer holiday period to help Sunshine Coast residents and visitors in a medical emergency. Please give the ultimate gift this Christmas by making a donation to the LifeFlight Summer Appeal. Every little bit adds up, and together people like you can give someone a second chance at life.

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