Mercy dash for coma payment

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Adam (centre) with dad Adrian, who runs the Mad Max II Museum in Silverton, and Mum Linda.

Adam doesn’t remember celebrating his 21st birthday in England, not because he was partying too hard but because the after effects of an emergency operation to remove an abscess on his frontal lobe affected his memory.

Quick thinking friends Tom Devaney and Anouska Thornton got Adam to hospital in England and once he was given the all clear Adam flew back to Australia to join his family in Broken Hill.

Far from being the end of the crisis, that’s when Adam’s problems really began.

An undetected infection in Adam’s sinuses, possibly caused by a hairline fracture in his skull, gradually took hold and the nightmares Adam thought he was experiencing turned out to be seizures.

Adam’s brother woke one night to the sound of furniture banging and crashing in his brother’s room and he rushed in to find Adam trapped between the bed and the wardrobe, cut and bruised by the force of the fit.

Less than 24 hours later Adam was in intensive care in Broken Hill Hospital.

His kidneys had failed, his airways collapsed and his vital organs were functioning only with the help of a life support machine. That’s when the Flying Doctor was tasked to airlift Adam to hospital in Adelaide.

“A team of professionals swung into action to get Adam ready for that flight and I can’t speak highly enough of all the medical staff.” says Adam’s mum Linda.

“As a parent it all seems to happen in slow motion, like a car crash, but in reality I know it was fast and efficient.”

With so much equipment on board the aircraft Adam’s parents were forced to follow by road.

The five-hour journey from Broken Hill to Adelaide took far longer than normal.

“We were so worried about Adam we had to drive really carefully. Any time we picked up a mobile signal we stopped to call and find out how he was doing.”

The 22-year-old survived, although the trauma left him blind in one eye and with significant memory loss.

“But what’s that compared to your life?” says Linda. “Adam is a positive young man and he refuses to be downcast about what’s happened. He’s already planning a fundraising event to raise money for the RFDS.”

Linda works at the Silverton Hotel, where a Flying Doctor donation tin stands on the counter.

“If someone asks me about the Flying Doctor I tell them what happened to Adam. I never ask for money but it doesn’t take long for them to reach into their pockets. After all, where would Australia be without the Royal Flying Doctor Service?”

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School support

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Children who’d never met before were wary when they first arrived.

Their motto is parted but united, their playground is the Australian Outback and their teachers are hundreds of kilometres away. If you haven’t already guessed it, we’re talking about children who study at School of the Air.

There are 115 students enrolled at the Broken Hill School of the Air (SOTA), ranging in age from pre-schoolers to Year 6.

They’re scattered across 800,000 square kilometres of inland New South Wales, stretching from the Queensland border in the north down to the Victorian border in the south.

One thing they all have in common is that they rely on the Flying Doctor to look after them.

It’s not just life-threatening emergencies these children associate with the RFDS.

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A jubilant Bernie O’Connor (centre) with Emma Cullen (left) and Emma-Rose O’Connor.

The Flying Doctor also provides them and their families with GP clinics, dental check ups, eye tests, immunisation programs, chronic disease care and a host of associated health support programs.

Recently RFDS staff attended a three day SOTA mini school held on Avenel Station, two hours north of Broken Hill

“The biggest challenge these children face is isolation,” says SOTA Deputy Principal Steven Eason.

“Satellite lessons and online tutorials are important tools but children need to socialise with each other. A web chat is not the same as kicking a football around with their mates.”

The RFDS sent three mental health workers to the camp and arranged for specialists in music and laughter therapy to join the 100+ children, parents and teachers.

“We gave the children simple, effective strategies that are clinically proven to improve health and wellbeing, reduce stress, increase resilience and increase creativity,” says RFDS mental health worker Vanessa Latham, who was part of the team that camped out under the stars for two nights.

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Games dispelled any misgivings.

“I was struck by how mature and friendly the children were,” she adds. “The older ones looked out for the younger ones and several were in tears when it was time to leave because they don’t get to see other children that often.”

Members of the RFDS mental health team take part in similar workshops and events at small community gatherings right across far western NSW, helping to reduce the sense of isolation and encouraging people to feel more comfortable about accessing regular mental health services.

“The Flying Doctor is part of our lives in remote areas,” says deputy principal Steven. “It’s an organisation we all rely on.”

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Baby on board

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Tegan Howison, baby Sahara and flight nurse Chris Minchell.

Giving birth inside an aircraft is not ideal—it’s safer on the ground where extra help can be summoned in case of complications—but sometimes nature intervenes, as RFDS Flight Nurse Chris Minchell found out recently.

Chris was called to Cobar when first time mum Tegan Howison went into early labour.

“We had been planning to drive to the maternity hospital in Dubbo, which is about three hours away,” says Tegan. The unexpected onset of labour put paid to those plans.

It was only a 45-minute flight to Dubbo but Tegan raced through labour faster than anyone had anticipated.

To make matters worse, neither she nor her partner had been able to attend any ante-natal classes.

“I was quite scared but the flight nurse was really good,” says Tegan.

Chris calmed the anxious Tegan, reassured worried dad Terry, gave them both a thorough explanation of what to expect and told the pilot she wouldn’t be strapped in for landing.

RFDS pilot Capt. Brett Croker kept the aircraft on a steady course and Chris delivered a beautiful baby girl just as the plane touched down.

“Brett’s landing was so perfect I didn’t even know we were on the ground until I saw buildings pass by the plane window,” says Chris. “In the end it was a completely natural, calm birth, with no problems at all.”

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Chris and Sahara.

Tegan is overjoyed at being a first time mum.

“I want to thank the Flying Doctor for all their help, they were so good,” she says, holding her partner’s hand and smiling at their beautiful daughter Sahara, born in the skies above the Dubbo RFDS Base.

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Rescued from a raging bull

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Adelaide with her horse Paleface.

In an odd twist of fate Eliza Middleton was running to raise money for the Flying Doctor just as her sister Adelaide was being airlifted from a paddock near Tilpa, almost 900 km away.

Unknown to Eliza, Adelaide had been crushed by a stampeding bull.

The sisters grew up on the family property in far western NSW. Adelaide still lives in the area and Eliza has since moved to Canberra.

“Now that I live in a city I have a profound appreciation of the accessibility and ease with which I can see a doctor,” says Eliza. “Living out in the bush, it’s not so easy.”

Twenty-eight-year-old Adelaide knows that only too well. She was helping her father muster cattle outside Tilpa on the day her sister, Eliza, was completing her ninth fun run for the RFDS.

“We were drafting, separating the calves from the cows,” says Adelaide.

“Dad asked me to do a head count so I climbed onto a fence to get a better look.” That action may well have saved her life.

“I heard a ruckus behind me and I turned around to see two bulls heading straight for me.”

The massive creatures were fighting and in their fury they were charging towards the fence. Adelaide scrambled up the steel bars just as a tonne and a half of solid flesh slammed against her, crushing her leg between the bulls and the steel fence.

“I knew I couldn’t let go, I had to hang on. I just clung onto the top of the fence and screamed.”

Adelaide’s father and her husband Matt raced over from the adjoining yard. By the time they reached her Adelaide was close to collapse.

“I could hear what they were saying but I couldn’t see anything.”

Matt cradled his wife on his motorbike and he raced to their nearby vehicle, where he rang the RFDS and spoke to the on-call RFDS medical officer, Dr Fabian Schwarz.

Fabian assessed the extent of Adelaide’s crush injury over the phone and told them to head for Tilpa, the closest landing strip.

“It was a 60 km journey and I was in a lot of pain,” recalls Adelaide. “Matt was trying to brace me as he drove.”

Fabian told them to stop at the pub at Tilpa to obtain pain relief medication from the Medical Chest then head straight for the landing strip.

“I can’t tell you how glad I was to see that plane land,” says Adelaide. “It was the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard.”

Adelaide’s thick work boots saved her ankle from snapping and although she won’t know the extent of her crush injuries until after the swelling subsides she’s simply glad to have escaped with her life.

“It’s a reminder of how easily accidents can happen out here, and how important it is that the Flying Doctor can reach us.

“The Flying Doctor is a big part of our lives out here. If I need to see a GP I go to the RFDS clinics at Tilpa and Wilcannia. You always hope you won’t need to call them but if something happens, you know they’ll be there.”

Eliza is relieved to know her big sister is safe and well.

“I am so grateful to the RFDS for all they did while we were kids out on the station and even more appreciative after Adelaide’s accident. It is such an incredible service for people who work in the places so many of us wouldn’t. The Royal Flying Doctor Service makes a difference to the lives of every Australian farming family and I’m just trying to do what I can to pay you back.”

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Happy Christmas!

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Drawing by Hayley Van Der Meulen, from Widalba on the Central Coast.

To all our friends, supporters and volunteers, the Flying Doctor wishes you a happy Christmas and a safe New Year.

We look forward to catching up with you all in 2014.

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Goodbye Fred

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The Fred McKay getting ready for another day’s service.

For 27 years, Super King Air 200 VH-MSZ has been transporting patients, doctors and flight nurses from our Broken Hill Base.

The aircraft, purchased in 1986, was renamed ‘Fred McKay’ in honour of Rev Dr Fred McKay, AC, CMG, OBE.

Fred was an icon of the RFDS, and is universally regarded for his personal commitment to those who live in the bush.

He was the successor of the Rev John Flynn, the founder of the Australian Inland Mission and a driving force behind what is now the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

And in a direct link to our past, it was Fred McKay who persuaded our chief executive officer, Clyde Thomson, to join the RFDS as a young pilot back in 1974.

The aircraft that bears Fred’s name has undergone several modifications during its time with us, including the retrofitting of a cargo door for easier stretcher access.

Fred McKay was the first King Air to be purchased by the RFDS. Its pressurised cabin allowed for the first time the above-turbulence transportation of patients with head and chest injuries.

In its time with the RFDS it has made 5,065 flights and flown more than 4.3 million km.

In order to maintain the safest and most efficient fleet possible, the Fred McKay will be sold this financial year to make way for newer aircraft.

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A man who saw a need and did something about it

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Joy Swan

“I can still hear his voice,” Joy Swan says.

“I can still hear him saying he wanted to put a mantle of safety over Australia.”

The sprightly Sydney senior citizen was a volunteer letter writer at Rev John Flynn’s Australian Inland Mission Assembly Hall in York Street from 1946 to 1952.

Now 91, the former teacher recalls Rev Flynn, whose vision led to the Royal Flying Doctor Service, as an eloquent and engaging story teller, a man of creativity and a tireless campaigner for those who lived in the Outback.

“He never asked for money. He told a story and you were captured for life.
“We had this wonderful time listening to John Flynn’s stories, his yarns, same as he would do around a camp fire.

“Some of his stories were absolutely hilarious. A number of them were very dramatic, because he told about rescuing people.”

Joy says Rev Flynn’s policy was to send a hand-written letter of thanks to people who made donations.

Every Tuesday night for six years she joined half a dozen others in the task. And up until his death in 1951, Rev Flynn frequently joined them.

She remembers Rev Flynn being passionate about maps and speaking frequently of his friends, including Alf Traeger, the inventor of the first pedal-powered radio transmitter and receiver.

“Flynn saw a need and any time he saw a need, he did something about it,” Joy recalls. “And what he did was always quite a brilliant solution.”

Joy remembers Rev Flynn recounting the story of an Outback funeral where a group of drovers stood beside the graveside and sang ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’.

Rev Flynn’s response was to produce a sturdy linen-covered book for distribution to those living remotely. It contained words and prayers for important occasions as well as practical household hints.

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Rev John Flynn

Joy says Rev Flynn was a passionate ‘fixer’.

“As soon as he got to a property he went straight into the kitchen and fixed the pots.

“He could put a plate back together so well you couldn’t see the cracks. He loved clocks and could mend them all. He even mended grandfather clocks.”

She remembers a man dedicated to supporting families in the Outback.

“His idea was you could not have a community until you had women and children, a family. From families, you get a community. And that’s why he was so focused on community halls in the Outback.

“I remember one of the drovers came in and told us about the first time he saw a family with a baby in the Outback, and it almost moved him to tears. To bring the women to the Outback, that was Flynn’s idea, to make a community.”

Joy says Flynn was finely-built and always dressed in a black three-piece suit with a watch chain.

“He had a gentle voice. Some people present themselves in a big way but he was just laid back. He had this wiry strength… he had done so much work in the Outback. Even then he was getting on but you could tell he could manage anything.”

Joy says her brother, Charles Catt, the former chief engineer of Qantas, was a close friend of Arthur Affleck, the pilot of the first RFDS plane chartered from the airline.

“They were great mates. It’s another link.”

She remembers helping sort through Flynn’s correspondence after his death.

“That was one of the most exciting bits.”

She says there were letters from all over the world from people asking for assistance in setting up aeromedical services.

She recalls seeing correspondence from Africa and from the Inuit people in the Arctic asking for his help and advice.

“That’s how the idea of the Flying Doctor spread all around the world,” she says. “He was an extraordinary man.”

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