Graphic: Noemi Waber

Red Centre scare


13 Feb - 31 May 2017

Under a million outback stars, a young traveller's life hung in the balance ...

Noemi Waber's appetite for adventure called her far away from home but she didn't expect the baking wide spaces of the Australian outback to threaten her very life.

The 19-year-old Swiss tourist was one of many international tourists visiting Uluru that day.

Uluru is situated more than four hours' drive south-west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory, in Australia's Red Centre.

Every year the famous tourist destination sees more than 250,000 people visit from all around the world.

After finishing school, Noemi was keen to take advantage of her gap year and travelled to Australia to study English and see a bit of the country.
"I decided to go to Australia because it is very different to Switzerland," Noemi says.
"I love the attitude of Australian people because they are all very kind and open-minded and the life in Australia is more relaxed that in Switzerland."

After three months of language school in Sydney, Noemi headed to Australia's famed Red Centre to see Uluru. There, she found the heat oppressive, much hotter than anything she had previously experienced.

Graphic: Noemi Waber

"I can remember I didn't feel good because it was a really hot and dry day, and probably I did not drink and eat enough," Noemi recalled.

Hungry and thirsty and feeling unwell after her time spent exploring Uluru, Noemi then started to drink a large amount of water.

Later that night at the camping ground Noemi began to feel very ill and vomited before a seizure suddenly overwhelmed her and she collapsed.

Noemi's horrified companions sprang into action.


Staff from the local Yulara clinic were contacted and told about Noemi's worsening condition.

"They told me that I had lost a lot of salt during the day and then, because I drank so much water in a short time, my sodium levels became dangerously diluted, which caused the seizure," Noemi says.

She was suffering from hyponatremia, or low sodium levels, and had suffered a seizure. When sodium levels in the blood drop rapidly, rapid swelling can occur in the brain, which may lead to seizures or coma. In some cases, patients do not survive.

Local staff began to administer sodium to restore her sodium levels.

Noemi now urgently needed specialist care in the intensive care unit of the Alice Springs Hospital.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) was alerted and a RFDS aircraft departed nearby Yulara at 2.00am with Noemi on board.

As the aircraft raced through the-middle-of-the-night sky, Noemi received critical care in the air from the RFDS Flight Nurse and a Retrieval Doctor from the Alice Springs Hospital.

The 450 kilometre drive from Uluru to Alice Springs takes more than four hours but the RFDS aircraft covers this ground in just 45 minutes.

"Being flown by the RFDS was amazing. The emergency flight saved my life and I am very, very grateful," Noemi says.

Noemi went on to make a full recovery and returned to Switzerland with her very own Flying Doctor tale to tell.