When Shannon Smithwick's waters broke suddenly, she needed the help of the Royal Flying Doctor Service to transport her from her home in Blackwater to Brisbane. At only 31 weeks pregnant with twin girls, Shannon required expert care to ensure she could safely give birth to daughters, Charlotte and Penny.
It was a sweltering summer's day in Blackwater, located 190 kilometres inland from Rockhampton. January had consistently brought temperatures in the mid to high 30s, with the heat reaching a staggering 43.7° earlier in the month. Shannon, trying to stay cool, decided to lie down on her bed to rest. Her twins, however, had other plans and, Shannon's waters broke unexpectedly.
"It was like Niagara Falls, but I tried to keep calm, I told my husband Dean we needed to get to the hospital right away," Shannon said.
Shannon was taken to the local Blackwater Hospital, where staff began monitoring her closely. At only 31 weeks pregnant, the hospital was not equipped to meet the needs of premature twins, so, with Shannon's labour advancing, it was clear they needed to get to the specialist care of the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital (RBWH) urgently.
A Royal Flying Doctor Service crew from Bundaberg was dispatched. On board, Nurse Manager Jackie Hardy, an experienced midwife and nurse for almost 30 years, worked to relax Shannon's contractions and ensure that Shannon and her daughters remained safe.
"We picked up Shannon at 2.30 in the morning. She had already had a very long day so it was important to try and keep her calm, reassure her that we would do our best to get her and her babies safely to Brisbane, and to make the flight as comfortable as possible. We arrived safely in Brisbane at 4.30 in the morning," Jackie said.
RFDS Pilot, Captain George Walsh, a father of three, knew that a quick, smooth flight was vital and called ahead to ensure they wouldn't be delayed landing in Brisbane.
"In cases like this, where we don't have a moment to spare, Brisbane Airport can give us priority landing, ensuring our patients can be delivered to specialist care in record time," Captain Walsh said.
Shannon has nothing but praise for the crew that flew to her to Brisbane.
"The team were fantastic on the flight. They kept me calm while monitoring us closely. Thankfully it was a very smooth fight," Shannon said.
Once in Brisbane, Shannon's contractions quickened. At 9.58am and 9.59am, Charlotte and Penny were born via C-section.
"Penny became distressed and was rushed off for treatment by a medical team. Fortunately, Dean was able to have a quick hold of Charlotte before she was put into a humidicrib," she said.
Shannon and her daughters spent the next three weeks in Brisbane, where Charlotte and Penny were cared for by the Neonatal Intensive Care team at the RBWH.
Once the girls were well enough, the Flying Doctor transported them to Rockhampton Mater Hospital, so they could be closer to family and friends.
"Once we got the all clear, the RFDS flew us back to Rockhampton, which I am so grateful for. It gave me peace of mind knowing we would receive expert care on the flight back. It was one less thing for me to worry about," Shannon said.
"I don't remember much from that flight. Like any new mum, I was glued to watching my two beautiful girls. They were just so tiny, with both fitting into the one humidicrib," she said.
"And while we still needed to spend another three weeks in hospital at the Rockhampton Mater, it was just so nice to be a little closer to home," Shannon said.
Now home in Blackwater, Charlotte and Penny are reaching all their milestones, and according to Shannon, they are walking or dancing everywhere.
"We have two beautiful, happy, healthy children going from strength to strength. They give us, and our extended family, so much joy every day. We cannot thank the Royal Flying Doctor Service enough for how much they have helped us. The kindness, generosity and care they show for their jobs, their patients, and their patients' families is outstanding," Shannon said.