Graphic: Cruz Prior
Cruz Prior was almost five years-old and was fascinated with aeroplanes. On a recent family road trip he watched them in the skies adoringly. It was somewhat of a surprise that he ended up being taken to hospital in one of these very aircraft.
“We live in Melbourne but we sold our house and bought a caravan and travelled up the east coast of Australia for six months,” explained Cruz’s mother Kelly Kajewski. “We went all the way up to Port Douglas and then when we were on the way home we hit trouble in Lightning Ridge, and that’s where we needed the help of the RFDS.”
Cruz has had leukaemia since he was 16 months old and was coming toward the end of his treatment when the holiday was organised with full consultation with his doctors.
“The first year of treatment he was very sick, but by the time we planned this trip his health was a lot more stable. The chemotherapy was scheduled on a monthly plan and we knew when and what to expect. Life was more predictable.”
“Before we left on the trip we had organised treatment along the way and we’d planned the journey so that we would stay places which had mobile coverage and a hospital. We wouldn’t have taken him on the trip unless we thought he was well enough and we’d planned carefully enough.”
Trouble struck when Cruz developed a fever of unknown origin while the family of four were staying at Lightning Ridge.
“It was the middle of the night, about 1am, when Cruz got sick. I took him into the hospital at Lightning Ridge but they weren’t able to treat him,” Kelly said.
“They were doing a good job but they didn’t have the pathology services. Cruz needs to be given antibiotics within 30 minutes of being admitted to hospital. When he’s in this situation it’s important to review his blood tests to work out what is going on and determine the treatment plan. The hospital didn’t have the child sized equipment needed for Cruz, and any blood tests would need to be sent to a hospital in another town and would not have been returned until 5pm the next day
“It makes you realise that it’s so difficult to get access to healthcare in the outback.”
It was at this point that the Lightning Ridge Hospital called the Flying Doctor for help.
“Cruz and I flew with the RFDS to Dubbo and my partner and daughter, who is six, drove in the caravan from Lightning Ridge to meet us.”
“Everything was dramatic at the time – Cruz was not feeling at all well when he was put on the Flying Doctor plane - but it turned out fine, thanks to the Flying Doctors.
“We were really well looked after on the plane,” Kelly said. “The nurse was just brilliant. There was another patient on the plane and I thought, it’s a challenging situation with two patients in a small space, but he took control and was very calm.
“Before this happened I had no comprehension of what the Flying Doctor Service was, except for the TV show.
“My son though, knew about the RFDS. He is obsessed with planes. He sits at a window and looking for planes and during our trip he started to spot Flying Doctor planes.”
The family stayed in Dubbo while Cruz recovered in hospital before driving home to Melbourne.
“He was thrilled to know he was in a Flying Doctor plane,” Kelly said.
Cruz finished his chemotherapy in November and is hoping to start kindergarten this year. He is still obsessed with planes and wants to be a pilot when he grows up. We’d love to see him be a pilot with the Flying Doctor some day.