When every second counts

The Fisk family never thought they would need the Royal Flying Doctor Service. After all, they are a young healthy family living in Rockhampton and only a 20 minute drive from two large hospitals. They are hardly the rural property owners that most people expect to need the RFDS. However, on 20th November 2012 the RFDS was tasked with the emergency transfer of 12 day old Annabelle Fisk and her mother, Belinda Fisk.

12 days earlier on 8th November, Belinda welcomed Annabelle into the world with husband Andrew.

"I didn't have a birth plan, this was our second child and I was relaxed and happy to 'go with the flow'. I had a natural delivery with no complications and Annabelle was born quickly," Belinda says.

Belinda stayed with Annabelle in hospital for five days as they worked through some feeding issues, but Belinda had experienced this with her first child James, now two, so wasn't concerned.

"On day four I developed a fever, it only lasted a day and the hospital didn't seem too worried. I guess I was tired, but what new mother isn't tired. Annabelle seemed healthy too so on Tuesday morning Andrew and I took Annabelle home."

During the night Annabelle was very sleepy and wasn't interested in feeding.

"I was worried, she just didn't seem to be wriggling like normal, so I rang our local GP and booked in for a 9 am appointment, by the time the GP saw Annabelle, she was much worse and it sent alarm bells ringing through the clinic. After a very short appointment, Annabelle had a high temperature and was unresponsive, the GP sent us straight to the Rockhampton Base Hospital where a Paediatric Doctor was waiting for us and assessed Annabelle straight away."

Annabelle spent the next seven days at the Rockhampton Base Hospital.

"Things went into a terrifying downward spiral, a lumbar puncture and blood tests were ordered, then the inflammation of Annabelle's meninges system (meninges are the membranes that enclose and protect the central nervous system) was detected and Annabelle was placed in isolation, but no one knew what was causing the inflammation."

Annabelle's condition continued to get worse with the oxygen levels in her blood dropping, along with her temperature, which was now well below a healthy level for a baby.

Graphic: Annabelle RFDS reunite

"When we first went into hospital the doctors suggested we keep our son away as they didn't know why Annabelle was sick, by day 11 they were encouraging my husband and son to visit as they were not sure Annabelle would make it out of hospital."

After many more blood tests, Annabelle was diagnosed with Enterovirus Meningitis (viral meningitis). Known to attack the heart muscle, Annabelle was now below her birth weight and fighting a very serious virus.

"I still remember the sense of urgency the doctor had when on day 12 he came running into Annabelle's room and said the RFDS had been called and would fly Annabelle and I to Brisbane tonight. We were being transferred to the Mater Children's Hospital in Brisbane so that Annabelle could be looked after by a specialist cardiac team."

As Annabelle was in a precarious situation, the Mater Children's Hospital provided the RFDS with a specialist Paediatric team from their intensive care unit to assist the RFDS flight nurse during the flight. This Paediatric team would then continue her treatment at the hospital.

In Brisbane, Annabelle had a special ultrasound of her heart (an echocardiogram), was given a blood product to help her fight the virus and started showing positive signs of improvement.

Annabelle and Belinda stayed at the Mater Children's Hospital for nine days before flying home to Rockhampton with a healthy baby girl.

"The Doctor's prognosis was, one third of patients don't make it, one third make it but have on-going problems and one third completely recover," Belinda said. "I know that some patients with this virus aren't as lucky as Annabelle. My heart goes out to them and thier loved ones. Hardly anyone knows about it, we certainly didn't know how dangerous it could be.

"I am just so grateful that the RFDS was able to fly Annabelle to specialist care, it is nice to know that no matter where you live, because of the RFDS you can still access the same level of health care as if you were living in a capital city."