Kaleb's Story

When

20 Aug 2017 6:00

Graphic: Kaleb 10 days old

Valleys became lakes, roads became rivers and towns were turned into islands.

And in the stranded town of Biloela, a young mother called Lori Maher found herself 143 kilometres from the nearest major hospital as her baby Kaleb's heart began to fail.

It seems these days as if rarely a season passes without Mother Nature springing a nasty surprise on us.

In 2013 it was Australia's east-coast's turn to face hardship, when the skies opened and didn't close again until thousands of square kilometres of land were underwater.

Lori barely noticed the rain when the first drops began to fall. The only thing on her mind was her beautiful new baby boy, who was delivered at the very moment the storm clouds were gathering.

"When you have your first baby, you never know how you will handle things. But when Kaleb was born, he was perfect.

I remember feeling daunted but excited. All I wanted was for Kaleb to grow up and be healthy and have fun. Just to be there for him, to support him in whatever he wanted to do – that was all that mattered to me."

But it wasn't long before things took a turn for the worse. As the rain thundered down outside her house, inside another disaster began to unfold: "When Kaleb was born, he used to sleep three hours before waking up and feeding. But 10 days later, that changed. He was asleep for five hours at a time, and when I woke him up to try and get him to feed, he wasn't interested. He would just make this coughing, gagging noise."

Lori hoped Kaleb would be back to himself within a day or two. But instead of getting better, Kaleb became pale and increasingly listless. So Lori took him to her hometown's small community hospital.

Graphic: Kaleb 10 days old

"We were only there for a couple of seconds when the nurse told me that just by looking at Kaleb she could see he was very ill.

They started rushing around and putting needles and tubes into him. They couldn't find a vein in his arm for one of the needles, so they had to shave a little patch of his hair and put the needle in Kaleb's scalp.

It was terrifying."

The nurses at the hospital did their best to stabilise Kaleb. But the truth was, they had neither the expertise nor the equipment to deal with an emergency like this. And as Lori watched them trying to help her tiny son, the full extent of his desperate predicament finally sunk in.

Here they were, in the middle of a flood, almost 150 kilometres from intensive care.

The roads were cut off, and even the telephones were down and Kaleb was slipping away: "You couldn't contact anyone, you couldn't drive out of town, you couldn't do anything to help. It was so bad. I think Kaleb was pretty close to dying."

He likely would have done too, were it not for a quick thinking nurse at the hospital that day. Realising that Kaleb needed an intensive care unit within hours, she did the only thing she could do – she put in an emergency radio call for the Flying Doctor.

Within minutes of receiving the nurse's call for help an aircraft was packed with equipment and dispatched to the airstrip outside Lori's home town. On board that day was my colleague, Kevin Williams – an exceptional flight nurse whose job it was to not only look after Kaleb, but Lori too.

As Lori recalls, it's something Kevin did extremely well as he transferred her precious, tiny baby from the hospital to the waiting Flying Doctor aircraft: "Kevin talked to me about what was happening – letting me know it was okay and explaining everything they were doing. I felt confident that Kevin had it all under control – that if anything had gone wrong with Kaleb in the air, he could have handled it."

Kaleb was rushed into Rockhampton Hospital's Intensive Care Unit upon arrival, where a team immediately set to work stabilising his condition. A few hours later, Lori was told that Kaleb was out of immediate danger, but that he had a serious heart defect and would need surgery as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, the surgery Kaleb required was so complex that it could only be performed in Brisbane – and the weather conditions were so bad that the journey was impossible even by aeroplane.

Lori faced an anxious wait as her baby clung to life in his little cot, covered head to toe in drips and tubes. Mercifully, conditions improved just enough the next day for the Flying Doctor to attempt the flight, and before Lori could catch her breath Kaleb was in surgery.

It was at this point that Lori truly realised just how close she came to losing her only child: "After the operation, they told me that Kaleb was very, very lucky to get to hospital when he did. If it had been any longer, it could have been fatal."

All this happened some time ago. And thankfully Kaleb has made a stunning recovery. In fact, his doctors can see no reason why Kaleb shouldn't grow up to live a normal, active life.

And that is all thanks you the supporters who keep us in the air, and saving lives.

If you would like to help keep the Flying Doctor flying, please donate here.