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Remote rescue

Date published

14 Feb 2021

Amber Driver was shocked by news that no mother ever wants to hear.

“Sonny’s come off his bike. He’s really hurt!”

But Sonny’s accident didn’t happen in a suburban street.

The Driver family lives on Elkedra Station, a cattle station located 400 kilometres north-east of Alice Springs, Northern Territory. 

Sonny and his younger brother Ruben had been making the most of the first days of school holidays by taking their station motorbikes out for a ride.

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When their bikes collided, Ruben managed to get to his feet but Sonny was in serious trouble.

“Ruben rode back to me at the homestead to call for help," Amber said. 

"When we rushed out to where Sonny was lying, it was easy to see that one leg had been very badly broken, and he was in a lot of pain. 

"I called the RFDS and described Sonny’s situation and they detailed the First Aid we could give Sonny while the aircraft was speeding from the RFDS Alice Springs Base.

"I cannot describe the incredible comfort that comes from knowing that you can simply pick up the phone and talk to someone at the RFDS – and know that expert, caring help is always at hand.”

Elkedra Station is a five-hour drive from Alice Springs, including 300 kilometres of very bumpy dirt road, but the RFDS aircraft covers this ground in just 45 minutes. 

The RFDS aircraft landed on the station’s own dirt airstrip, and the RFDS Flight Nurse and a Retrieval Doctor from the Alice Springs Medical Retrieval and Consultation Centre were quickly to Sonny’s side, kneeling in the red dirt.

“They were able to stabilise his leg to prevent further movement and give him medication for his pain,” Amber said.

“They were the best crew that anyone could hope for. You could tell they are accustomed to handling medical emergencies – they were so calm and reassuring.”

Medical specialists were ready and waiting when Sonny and mum Amber arrived at Alice Springs Hospital where further investigations revealed that Sonny was suffering Compartment Syndrome.

In Compartment Syndrome, swelling muscles dangerously compress nerves and blood vessels and threaten to block life-giving blood supply and cause permanent damage – sometimes an amputation is required.

Acute Compartment Syndrome is a surgical emergency; there is no effective non-surgical treatment.

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“Sonny was taken into the operating theatre for emergency surgery, to ease the pressure in his leg,” Amber said.

“Within hours of suffering his injury on a very remote outback location, Sonny was in a major hospital receiving the emergency surgery he desperately needed.

“There were a number of surgeries over a few weeks to treat his badly-damaged leg, but eventually the day came when it was apparent he was in the clear – my son’s leg was saved! We were so relieved. It’s still emotional for us to think about just how close he came to losing his leg.”

As for Sonny, he’s now back at boarding school in Adelaide and ready to wield the cricket bat this summer.

“I just want to say thank you to the RFDS and hospital staff for getting me out so quickly and taking such good care of me,” he says.

“When I leave school I want a career in helicopter flying and to get a degree in aircraft engineering, I think it will be something really helpful and something I’ve always wanted to do.”