Graphic: RFDS patient Stefan Kosak
After being airlifted to safety by the Flying Doctor, Adelaide retiree Stefan Kosak was told by surgeons that he was just “one millimetre off dead.”
In July 2022, the 72-year-old and a group of friends embarked on a six-week road trip from Adelaide to Alice Springs, before they planned to head west, down the coast towards Perth and back home.
For the avid four-wheel drivers, it began as another familiar outback adventure – however, this one took an unexpected twist when the group reached the heart of the Gibson Desert, 900 kilometres west of Alice Springs.
“I was in the last of four cars – hanging back because of the dust,” Stefan said.
“I was going around a corner that kept getting sharper, when the car started jumping on corrugations that were extremely high and hard.
“The car spun 180 degrees – it landed on the roof, then on its side and then back on its wheels.
“I’ve corrected a lot of cars on dirt roads but there’s nothing I could do. It just happened… bang.”
Trapped in the car, Stefan immediately began checking his limbs and looking for blood.
Observing nothing abnormal, he phoned his friends ahead to alert them to turn back.
“They had to crowbar me out because the doors were flattened,” he said.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘Heck, I got out of that,’ but then my neck started hurting.”
The group called for emergency help. Before long, Stefan was in an ambulance with local nurses bound for Kiwirrkurra, the nearest community and airstrip to the crash.
“Once we got to Kiwirrkurra, my neck was really hurting. I couldn’t move it and I was told to be totally immobile,” he said.
“I had no option. I was approximately 850 kilometres west of Alice Springs, surrounded by dirt road. I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to Alice Springs by road.”
"The immediate response was the Royal Flying Doctor Service will get you."
An RFDS crew with a specialist from the Medical Retrieval and Consultation Centre (MRaCC) was tasked from Alice Springs to Kiwirrkurra and assessed Stefan, before airlifting him back to
Alice Springs for further scans and treatment.
“They came in with about a cubic metre of gear and they checked me over, both my heart and my neck, and said the back of my neck was all black and that I needed to fly back,” Stefan said.
“It was beautifully done, everyone gave incredible support – I never felt in danger or at risk.”
After arriving at Alice Springs Hospital, Stefan was told he had broken his 2nd and 3rd vertebrae, “snapping them right through.”
“One of the surgeons there came in and the first thing he said to me was, ‘You are lucky,’” Stefan said.
“‘You were one millimetre off dead.’”
A week later, Stefan returned to Adelaide in a neck brace; three months on, he is back travelling and living life to the full.
While disappointed he didn’t get to complete his four-wheel drive expedition, Stefan credits his remarkable recovery to the care he received from the RFDS, Kiwirrkurra Community Clinic and Alice Springs Hospital.
“I don’t think anyone expects to rollover, break their neck and be put in a plane and evacuated. But it happened to me and I’m forever thankful to the Royal Flying Doctor Service for rescuing me,” he said.
“I’ve been a lot of places and no country has the Royal Flying Doctor Service. To me, it’s the best service in the world. It virtually saved my life.”