In February this year, a woman suffered unimaginable injuries in a horrific car crash. So severe were these injuries that, if not for the quick actions and expertise of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew, she would have died and never watched her five children grow up.
At about 12.30pm, Emma was being driven to work in the southern town of Plenty by her daughter Acacia. It was a miserable, raining morning, and the wet roads caused another car to lose control and hit their vehicle head-on.
“I consider the Westpac Rescue Helicopter staff to be invaluable flying angels.”
Trapped, injured and fearing for her life and that of her daughter, Emma says she was terrified. Although she didn’t know it then, she had been severely injured: Emma suffered six breaks in her lower back; a broken neck at C2, a bleed on the brain; a collapsed lung; all the ribs on her right side were broken; she had a snapped collarbone; a broken shoulder bone; and damage to both of her eyes.
Despite Emma’s injuries, her concern was only for the welfare of Acacia, who had also been very badly injured in the accident. The impact of the collision had shattered the right side of Acacia’s face, resulting in 42 fractures in her facial bones and teeth. Her left leg had various bone breaks and shattered cartilage and her right ankle was fractured. Both Emma and Acacia had suffered serious and life threatening injuries. Thankfully Acacia didn’t remember anything about the accident until she woke up in hospital but Emma recalls pinching her on the shoulder soon after the accident and Acacia reacted by opening her eyes and screaming.
A witness called emergency services and Emma recalls the fire brigade arrived on the scene first, followed by the police and the ambulance. Immediately, the first responders knew that mother and daughter’s condition was so serious they would need to be airlifted to Royal Hobart Hospital.
She had a blood clot in her neck and that had to be cleared before they could operate on her face.
“They kept telling me that there was help coming,” she said. “When I saw the helicopter approaching I felt really happy. Somehow then I knew I would be OK.”
Emma was in immense pain, but she was frantic with worry about her children.
“I asked them to get Acacia out first, I wanted to make sure there would be somebody to look after my kids,” she said. “I stayed awake until they cut me out.”
The Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew that day was Intensive Care Paramedic Steve Elliott, pilot Grant White and Chief Crewman Sgt Damian Bidgood who arrived to evaluate the scene and prepare Emma and Acacia for transport.
Emma tells how they took excellent care to extract her from the car and transfer her to the helicopter, along with her daughter by her side, was air lifted to the hospital.
“The doctors told me that if it wasn’t for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and its crew I would not have survived. Now I am fortunate to be able to watch my five children grow up.”
“Sgt Bidgood said: ‘We are going to do the best we can to get you out of the car and straight into the chopper’,” she said. “I remember that a paramedic told me when I was in the back of the ambulance that it would be bumpy as we had to cross a paddock to get to the chopper. I became unconscious when I was placed in the chopper.”
Emma’s injuries will take years to heal and Acacia had a blood clot in her neck and that had to be cleared before surgeons could operate on the first of five operations completed on her face.
“I have at least three years of rehab and operations in front of me,” says Emma. “I am blind in my left eye and my right eye is damaged and I can only move it up and down, not side to side. My daughter suffered facial and leg injuries and will need a knee replacement when she is thirty.”
Acacia remembers her family coming into the hospital to and them crying when they saw her. Acacia comforted them, saying, “Don’t cry I am OK - I am alive.”
Both Emma and Acacia have a long way to go on the road to recovery, but their spirit is strong through this tough time, and she knows the Westpac Rescue Helicopter team saved her life.
“The doctors told me that if it wasn’t for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and its crew I would not have survived. Now I am fortunate to be able to watch my five children grow up,” she said. “I consider the Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew to be invaluable flying angels.”
And she is right. The Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew are Tasmania’s flying angels.