RFDS patient Richy Hobbs

Down to the wire: Richy's story

Date published

30 Aug 2022

A devastating fall from a ladder while on a job 540km north of Adelaide became a race against time for carpenter Richard Hobbs. Hear directly from Richy below, as he recalls his near-death experience.

My name is Richy Hobbs, and I’m a 37-year-old tradie and footy player from Port Augusta. 

I’d like to share a personal story with you that ended with me being airlifted by the RFDS to Adelaide for life-saving surgery. It’s only thanks to the amazing efforts of the first responders, the Flying Doctor crew and the team at the Royal Adelaide Hospital that I am here today to tell the tale.

Two weeks before Christmas, I was working at Beltana, a six-hour drive north of Adelaide. As a carpenter in Port Augusta, it’s not unusual to be called out for various jobs out bush. In this case I was helping my mate, Matt, build a shed for a client.

It was early morning, and I was up on a ladder, which was leaning against the wall of the shed. The next thing I knew, the ladder slid out from under me and in a split second I jagged my arm onto a metal bracket as I fell.

The bracket tore open my arm, ripping up into my elbow, and I was left dangling three metres from the ground.

Beltana, SA
Photo: I was working at a residential property in Beltana, 540 kilometres north of Adelaide.

As you can imagine, blood was spurting… everywhere.

I don’t remember how, but I managed to use my other arm to unhook myself and fell onto the floor. I knew I’d hit an artery because I was in the most extreme pain I’ve ever felt. It turns out it was my brachial artery, the main vessel supplying blood to the arm.

Sitting there in the huge pool of blood, all I could think about was my family. My parents, sisters, and their kids. As I wedged my hand in to clamp everything together, I started to panic. I thought, “Jeez, I’m not ready to leave them yet.”

As Matt rummaged through the first aid kit, he tried to calm me down. We didn’t have anything on hand to stop the amount of blood I was losing, so we wrapped my arm in towels and duct tape. At this point, I was screaming in pain.

Matt and the property owner called 000 through to Leigh Creek, the nearest health clinic. We were about 40 kilometres from the clinic, so we decided to bundle me into our work ute and meet the ambulance halfway. I continued to lose a lot of blood and was on the brink of losing consciousness. Matt kept telling me to keep calm, but really, we were both scared as hell.

After a hairy stretch of rough dirt road (and bumpy old creek crossings), we made it to the ambulance. The paramedic, Jess, and the nurse, Veronica, got a tourniquet on my arm and gave me some medication to help the pain. I was in absolute agony. 

“This is really bad.”

These were the words I heard on arrival at Leigh Creek when the clinic staff took off the torniquet to examine my arm.

I thought to myself, “I’m only 37 – is this how it all ends?” and went into panic again. That’s when we contacted the Flying Doctor.

Dr Trevor Burchall

"A call came through from Veronica, a nurse at Leigh Creek. They had a patient, Richard, who had a big laceration to his right arm. My initial response was we need to get out there quickly – when you have an artery injury, every minute, every hour could mean loss of function.

When your tissues are not getting adequate blood supply, you have about six hours before you get death of those tissues. On the flight back to Adelaide, it was all about keeping Richard stable. If we hadn’t got to Adelaide in time to save the tissues in his arm, Richard could’ve been left with permanent disability and possibly amputation of the limb. Thankfully, we got him there in the tight timeframe."

- Dr Trevor Burchall, RFDS Rural Generalist / Retrieval Consultant

I had always been aware of the role the Flying Doctor plays in rural and remote Australia, but never did I think I’d be calling on them for help. I don’t remember much of my flight, but I do remember an unconditional feeling of safety and reassurance. Without the RFDS – say, if I had to drive all the way to Adelaide – I would’ve lost my arm. I may have never made it.

After two weeks at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and nine blood transfusions, I was sent home and bandaged up for 10 days. I asked how many stitches were holding my arm together – the doctors said there were too many to count.

RFDS patient Richy Hobbs injured arm
Photo: The doctors said I had too many stitches to count.

Fast forward six months and I’m getting more use and feeling in my hand each day. There are many parts of my life that are still on hold. I can’t work. I can’t play footy. But I’m hopeful. And most importantly, I’ve been given a chance.

It’s people like you that help keep the Flying Doctor flying. 

It’s only with your support that the tens of thousands of people living, travelling, or like me, working in the outback, can take comfort in knowing that help is near when it gets down to the wire. 

For that, I owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you.


RFDS patient Richy Hobbs recovering in hospital
Photo: Recovering in hospital with my dad, Stanley.