Graphic: RFDS SE Plane at night
Had help reached Wayne Breese two hours later than it did, he says, he “wouldn’t have needed an operation but resuscitation”.
“I could have died there by the side of the road,” explains Wayne. “I wasn’t feeling real flash at all. I thought I was done for.”
But the Royal Flying Doctor Service (South Eastern Section) and people in three states worked together to take Wayne to safety.
Nearing the end of a 5,000 kilometre trek around remote central Australia, blinded by dust Wayne had hit the gravel in a creek bed at about 70 kilometres per hour. The owner of several motorcycles and an experienced tourer, Wayne was no stranger to knocks and spills, but at age 64 this was by far his worst.
“My bike just went sideways,” he recounts. “It felt like falling off a tree. I got up on my knees, winded like you wouldn’t believe.”
His motorbike had landed on his body, breaking his ribs and puncturing both lungs. He had a life-threatening condition called a tension pneumothorax and needed help right away.
But Wayne and his friend Troy Hughes were somewhere in the remote northeast corner of South Australia, about 165 km out of Birdsville, Queensland, and hours from the nearest hospital with just one working bike.
Strangely enough, a few days earlier Wayne and Troy had joined in with local RFDS supporters they had encountered on the way. “People were sticking $50 notes onto the roofs of their cars for the Flying Doctor, so we did the same.”
Both luck and judgment played their parts in saving the painter and panel-beater’s life. The stricken motorcyclists had a satellite phone (“the best $360 we ever spent,” Wayne notes) and were able to reach the Birdsville police, who contacted the Royal Flying Doctor Service before setting off to find them along with a local nurse, Jess.
Meanwhile, by sheer good fortune Rowan and Judy Groves – a Melbourne couple on a road trip by car – came across the bikers and took Wayne to Cordillo Downs Station, 120 km north of Innamincka, SA, while the police headed back to Queensland to relay the details to the Royal Flying Doctor Service team.
At Cordillo Downs, the owners were in the middle of cooking a Sunday roast for the station hands. They had both an airstrip and a medical chest ready for emergencies, and Wayne was hooked up to an oxygen cylinder and laid out on a gurney by the kitchen table.
A local ambulance arrived with more oxygen, but all they could do after that was wait.
The Flying Doctor team arrived at around 5.00 pm, led by Medical Officer Rory Carpenter on his very last RFDS tasking before returning to the UK. The urgency of the situation demanded he performed a swift surgical procedure on Wayne’s lung. With Flight Nurse Leisl Moffat’s assistance, Wayne was soon stable and ready to move, but it was getting dark.
The station hands and the Birdsville police rushed to light the runway with temporary flares, while the station manager mopped blood off the kitchen floor and prepared to serve up roast lamb and vegies.
“I’d said to her I’d love to stay for dinner, but I had somewhere better to go,” Wayne says.
Wayne remembers that the pilot, Capt. David Connell, had to watch the altitude very carefully, lest air pressure fluctuations aggravated his swollen lungs, but later that night and 12 hours after the accident he was being treated at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
After a week in intensive care, Wayne was well enough to return home to Medowie near Newcastle, NSW, and within a couple of months was back on a bike trekking around Japan and Thailand.
But the story doesn’t end then. Though COVID-19 postponed his plan, in early 2021 Wayne set off on a bike tour to thank the people who had helped save his life, dropping in on the Groves family in Melbourne and the RFDS Broken Hill Base too.
“What a fantastic job they do,” says Wayne of everyone involved in his rescue. “Despite the state I was in, it was incredible to see how those people work.”
“I just want to shake all their hands and say thank you that I’m still riding my bike and getting on.”
It’s because of the generous support of people like you that the Flying Doctor can respond help people like Wayne, thank you.