4 year old Tessa bitten by a brown snake

Date published

26 Aug 2016

Being so far from emergency care, you can imagine mum Sonia would have been beside herself the day her four-year-old daughter Tessa was bitten by a King Brown snake.


Graphic: tessa and her pet calf

There's remote, and then there's Suplejack Downs Station – the incredibly isolated former home of Sonia, Hans and their five children.

To locate Suplejack Station on a map, try searching just past the back of beyond. Because that's where you'll find it – a tiny island of human habitation in a vast sea of open wilderness.

Like so much of our Outback, Suplejack Station is a spectacular but challenging place to live and work. The sunsets are magnificent, but the eight-hour drive to the nearest hospital most certainly is not.

Being so far from emergency care, you can imagine mum Sonia would have been beside herself the day her four-year-old daughter Tessa was bitten by a King Brown snake.

It was about 12.30pm on a Sunday. My kids were in the lounge room, laying about on the couch and watching TV while I prepared their food in the kitchen. That’s when I heard a scream. A moment later Tessa stumbled in and she just sort of dropped onto the ground screaming.

"Like most bush kids, Tessa's pretty tough and it takes a good bit to get a reaction out of them. So I knew Tessa must have really been in pain. When I saw the puncture wound on her leg, I think there was a bit of disbelief. I was looking at it, and going, 'no, it can't possibly have been a snake'. I mean, she was just laying in a lounger for goodness sake, of all places.

"But then I remembered, we'd had the doors open all morning to let the breeze come through the house, giving a snake plenty of opportunity to come in. That's when I finally accepted that she really had been bitten, and the seriousness of what we were dealing with hit me."

Having lived in the Outback for many years, Sonia knew very well how quickly a snakebite can kill, and that the clock was ticking.

She realised she had to get Tessa to a hospital fast. And because the nearest one was an eight-hour drive away on a good day, Sonia realised what she had to do.

Living on a remote station, you make sure you know how to deal with emergencies like this. Being just four, Tessa was a bit distressed as you can imagine. So first thing I did was try to calm her down. While I reassured her, my sister put a compression bandage on her leg, with a splint behind it to immobilise it. Then, with the first aid done, that’s when I rang for the help of the Flying Doctor.

And soon after receiving her call, a Flying Doctor aircraft was on its way to Suplejack Station – equipped with everything the aeromedical team on board might need to look after Tessa.

"I was very much panicking before the Flying Doctor flight arrived. I was trying to stay strong for Tessa, telling her, 'It's okay, it's all fine." I didn't want her upset, but I'd never had anyone bitten by a snake before, and inside I was a mess.

"That's when the plane came in over the house, and it was one of the most amazing sounds I think I've ever heard in my life. Knowing that medical help was coming, that somebody who knew what they were doing was about to take over – I felt finally I could relax a little bit."

The airstrip Sonia and her family maintained at Suplejack Station was 2km from their homestead, so Sonia and Tessa drove out to meet our aircraft as soon as they heard it pass overhead.

"We drove down the runway and pretty much arrived at the same time as the Flying Doctor set down. Seeing them step out of the aircraft was a complete relief. It felt as if the angels of the sky had arrived."

Graphic: current family

The good news is that Sonia and her sister had done an excellent job of providing first aid while waiting for the Flying Doctor to arrive. And as a result Tessa was relatively well when she boarded the flight, and remained stable throughout.

Less than two hours after departing Suplejack Station they arrived at their destination, where they were met by an ambulance. And a few minutes later Tessa was safely in hospital where she needed to be.

After a doctor administered the appropriate anti-venom, Tessa was out of danger and feeling a whole lot better.

Thankfully we were able to respond quickly to Sonia's call for help that day, and as a result, Tessa was able to return home with her mum and dad less than a week later.

Tessa's Outback snakebite is the sort of uniquely Australian emergency that the Flying Doctor exists for – and that your generosity helps us respond to.

horse riding with sisters