Patient in RFDS plane

Life can shatter in a heartbeat

Date published

06 Dec 2018

When Mel took her 11-week old baby daughter Keiley to the hospital with breathing difficulties, she never expected the shocking turn of events.

Suddenly, while Keiley was being monitored by doctors, she stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest.

“It was terrifying. I stood there and watched the doctor thump her tiny chest to bring her back to life, a million things running through my mind,” Mel said.

She quickly discovered that Keiley needed urgent specialist attention which wasn’t available in their regional town.

They couldn’t risk the five-hour drive to a major hospital, with mobile phone black spots along the way, in fear that Keiley may stop breathing again and not being able to reach help.

Access to healthcare saves lives

For families like Mel’s, living in remote, rural and regional Australia, the Royal Flying Doctor Service can be the difference between life and death.

After Keiley was born, she had several urgent and terrifying trips to their closest hospital with breathing difficulties. She would be routinely monitored for several days and then sent home once doctors were happy with her test results but her parents still had no answers.

On the day of Keiley’s cardiac arrest, Mel and her husband Christopher assumed it would be like the other hospital visits. However, things quickly turned into their worst nightmare. 

'It felt like a lifetime'

Mel recalls: “The doctors told me she was unresponsive for about 30 seconds but to me if felt like a lifetime. I thought she was dying.”

Once Keiley had regained consciousness and was stable she was transferred to the paediatrics ward where she was monitored for oxygen levels, received specialist care and underwent tests. All tests showed she was okay to return home as she seemed fine.

But Mel was frightened and wanted to find answers.

Her maternal instinct told her something was wrong. She felt there was no time to waste when her baby’s life was at stake.

Thankfully, there was another choice.

Our team at the Royal Flying Doctor Service were immediately mobilised to transfer Keiley to Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney where Mel and Christopher could get urgent, specialist care for Keiley.

When faced with life and death emergencies, your support can ensure families get the urgent help they need.

Our specialised intensive care unit on board the Flying Doctor aircraft allowed flight nurse Brendon to monitor Keiley’s vital signs throughout the flight and act quickly if there was any threat to her life. She was in safe hands through every minute of her trip.

The cost of saving lives 

It can cost $8,000 for a vital signs monitor, like the one used to monitor and maintain Keiley’s heart rate, blood pressure, ECG and respiratory rate during the flight. Every aircraft is fitted with at least one monitor.

Flight nurse Brendon described Keiley and Mel’s transfer as ‘routine’, however, Mel describes it as anything but routine.

“We will be forever grateful that the Royal Flying Doctor Service said yes on that day and got us to safety when we needed it,” she said.

Equal access to healthcare

Families living in rural and remote areas should have the same access to healthcare as metro areas. 

Yet, children living in rural Australia have a death rate three times higher than city kids. 

Parents like Mel and Christopher depend on the Royal Flying Doctor Service for life-saving support for their family. Your support can mean the difference between life and death for children living with serious medical conditions.

A life-threatening condition

Keiley was diagnosed with Laryngomalacia which causes the tissues in the voice box to soften and potentially fall over the airway opening, partially blocking it. Keiley’s case is extremely rare, only five percent of all of diagnoses requires surgery and for those, the condition is life-threatening.

Mel told me, “We truly believe, as does her Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist (ENT), that without the Flying Doctor transfer, Keiley would have died due to respiratory complications not long after.”

“Living in a regional area with a child who has a life-threatening medical condition can be frightening but knowing that the Flying Doctor was able to save her life that day and were there for us when we desperately needed help, was everything to us.” 

Every Australian, no matter where they live, should have access to excellent medical care.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service has been bringing healthcare to all Australians and their families in remote, rural and regional Australia for 90 years and we are proud to be part of their lives. But we couldn’t do this without you.

With your support we can continue to save lives and care for all families in remote, rural and regional Australia for many years to come.

Making a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service this Christmas means that no matter where they live, babies like Keiley can get the critical care they need in an emergency.