Graphic: Leah Dunk
Leah is a sweet 11-year-old with brown hair and a cheeky smile. Like many girls her age, she loves playing with her friends at school and going to the hairdresser.
Leah’s family have lived in rural NSW for over 20 years, scattered across the Western Region. She was born in Dubbo and grew up in Cobar, but home is now in Gulgong. Life is good for Leah, but things haven’t always seemed so positive.
When Leah was born, doctors detected a heart murmur. Mother Roz remembers Leah as a quiet baby. “She was a beautiful, sleepy, content baby, or so I thought,” she said.
A fortnight after birth Roz drove her to Dubbo Hospital for her 2-week check. Leah’s paediatrician, Dr Fitzgerald, found that she was working very hard to breathe and what was initially a simple check-up became an emergency in a matter of minutes.
Dr Fitzgerald found that Leah had heart failure, and her condition was so critical that there wasn’t time to make the five-hour drive to Sydney.
Faced with a race against time – and distance – to save baby Leah’s life, he immediately phoned the Royal Flying Doctor Service and arranged for her to be flown to Sydney Children’s Hospital.
Once again, the RFDS retrieval team were there – ready to transfer Leah and her mother for life-saving treatment in an RFDS ‘flying intensive care unit’.
A Dubbo based RFDS King Air B200 was ready and waiting for her departure, medically-equipped and designed to provide intensive care in-flight. The crew worked hard to keep Leah safe with treatment on par with that received by a patient at a major hospital.
In less than three hours she was in Sydney where she was diagnosed with a serious heart condition and underwent open-heart surgery. Thanks to the surgeons and the Flying Doctor, Leah got the help she needed.
Since her ordeal, she has undergone open-heart surgery again at age two and will have more surgery as she grows older. Leah is now a healthy 11-year-old and leads a normal life.
Despite the challenges they have faced, Roz, Deborah and the rest of the family are relieved and grateful.
"She’s a little miracle...she wouldn’t be here without the Flying Doctor,” Roz said.