Sandy's story

Graphic: Sandy's story

Sandy overcame a life-changing injury but that was only the beginning of the battle

Date published

21 Feb 2024

Traumatic injuries can have long-lasting effects and for Ti Tree resident Sandra Abley, the Flying Doctor was there to support her full journey to physical and emotional recovery.

Sandy had only recently moved from Adelaide to the remote community in Ti Tree with partner Jeff when she slipped on the back stairs of her home.

It could well have been an everyday stumble. But this particular fall resulted in serious injuries that Sandy’s doctors later compared to the scene of a car accident.

“I don’t know if I blacked out, but before I knew it, I was at the bottom of the stairs,” Sandy said.

“I heard my leg break – the bone was coming through. But I had to let go of that to get to the top of the stairs to my phone.

“I was obviously panicking. I thought I was going to bleed to death.”

Sandy was home alone, more than 200 kilometres from the nearest major hospital and because of the recent move, far away from the social network she could’ve ordinarily contacted for assistance.

The local Ti Tree health clinic provided a first response before she was emergency airlifted by the RFDS to Alice Springs.

Sandy underwent surgery at Alice Springs Hospital, where she stayed for more than week.

“Living out here you do feel very isolated, so having the RFDS arrive took a lot of the worry out for me,” she said.

“The doctors explained they see this kind of fracture from a car accident. They told me my recovery would be 12 months, if not more.”

Sandy's scars
Photo: Sandy's scars 12 months on.

Upon her return to Ti Tree post surgery, Sandra was bed-ridden and more reliant than ever on her partner, Jeff, for everyday support.

Sandy knew she was in for an arduous recovery. But the injury not only unravelled her physical wellbeing – it triggered a cascade of mental health challenges.

“The injury changed my life and made me look at things a lot differently. But it also took me to a terrible place with my mental health,” she said.

“It was like something was happening to me and I didn’t know how to fix it or control it.

“I was told I had post-traumatic stress disorder from the accident – it brought up a lot of horrible memories and things that I’d never thought about. I was having debilitating panic attacks.

“I’d never felt so low in my life.”

Recognising the urgency, Jeff encouraged Sandra to seek help. She was again referred to the Flying Doctor, but this time to connect with the RFDS Mental Health & Wellbeing team.

“Talking to the team, they listened and gave me coping strategies. They came to me in my comfortable place and I was able to talk about everything I needed to,” Sandra said.

“The first visit was difficult. But after it was all over, I felt so much better. The next time they came out, it felt like friends visiting over a cup of tea.”

Sandy mental health consult
Photo: Sandy catching up with the RFDS Mental Health & Wellbeing team at her Ti Tree home.

With the unwavering support of Jeff and regular support visits from the RFDS’s dedicated mental health professionals, Sandra embarked on a journey of healing.

“A physical injury is going to impact on someone’s mental health in various ways. With Sandra’s particular injury, it meant her mobility and daily routine were incredibly limited,” RFDS Mental Health Clinician Nigel Wyatt said.

“The strength of Sandra’s character meant she was able to have quality conversations with our team and unpack how she was feeling, her personal history, the isolation, and how that was impacting her mental health.

“This is what enabled her to go from an unwell space into a position of positive wellness and where she is today.”

Sandy with RFDS
Photo: Sandy with RFDS Mental Health Clinician Nigel Wyatt.

More than a year on from her fall, and after regular support visits, Sandra has emerged on the other side transformed. She enjoys spending time with Jeff and tending her flourishing outback vegetable garden – her “happy place”.

“I was in a deep, dark place – I was making plans and said goodbye to people in my head. At the time, I felt like those feelings were never going to go away – that I was stuck with those for the rest of my life,” she said.

“Because I was able to talk it through and have support from the Flying Doctor, I got through it. Those feelings passed.

“I look back now and think, ‘How did I ever feel like that?’ Because I can’t imagine feeling like that now.

“My perspective on mental health support has changed dramatically. I can’t believe the care I’ve had out here.

“I broke my leg and the RFDS came and rescued me. Then because of the accident, I struggled with my mental health, but once again the RFDS helped me.”

Sandy and Jeff
Photo: Sandy with partner Jeff.

If you need help right now, it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere in Australia. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit

Find out more about RFDS’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Services.