Graphic: A young woman smiles. She is standing next to two horses.
Can you imagine receiving a telephone call to say your loved one has been injured and urgently needs emergency brain surgery – with the nearest specialists over 2,000 kilometres away?
For Netta, it’s a moment she will never forget. She and her husband were enjoying a relaxing break in Western Australia when they received the phone call to say their 25-year-old daughter, Brooke, had received a kick to the head from a horse, suffering multiple fractures to her skull.
“Brooke has always loved horses,” says Netta. “She’s spent nine years working on stations, working her way up to Head Stockman.”
Brooke had been working alone, driving a horse truck from Wave Hill Station in the Northern Territory over the border to a stallion stud in Queensland.
She’d camped overnight at Barkly Homestead, a remote roadhouse offering respite from the eight-hour drive between the outback towns of Tennant Creek and Mount Isa.
“I woke early to start loading the horses into the truck,” recalls Brooke.
“I remember loading the last mare — the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor covered in blood. I assumed I had a bad blood nose,” Brooke says.
Not realising the extent of her injuries, Brooke was determined to continue her drive — but called her partner, Jarrad, to let him know she ‘didn’t feel too good’.
Jarrad pleaded with Brooke to go inside the nearby roadhouse to ask for help.
“I hadn’t looked in a mirror, but it couldn’t have been pretty. I was spitting up blood. Everyone looked at me in shock. It was only when someone gave me a towel that I realised there was blood running down my head,” Brooke says.
Faced with a serious head injury – and a long way from medical help – roadhouse staff sprang into action.
A Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) aircraft, with a specialist retrieval team on board, was tasked to airlift Brooke from Tennant Creek to Alice Springs. Brooke was driven towards Tennant Creek Hospital, where she was met en-route by a local road ambulance. The Flying Doctor arrived at Tennant Creek Hospital at the same time as Brooke.
She was covered in blood; her right eye bruised and swollen shut. The large cut on the side of her forehead had finally stopped bleeding — but the bone was completely exposed. Doctors administered morphine for the pain and performed an emergency procedure to reduce the pressure in her eye.
Brooke was airlifted to Alice Springs Hospital for a CT scan to reveal the full extent of her condition.
The 510-kilometre journey from Tennant Creek takes over five hours by road, but a RFDS ‘flying intensive care unit’ covers this ground in just 60 minutes.
Further investigations revealed Brooke required the help of neurological and ophthalmological surgeons at the Royal Adelaide Hospital — more than 1,500 kilometres away.
Once again the Flying Doctor was there — this time airlifting Brooke to Adelaide for the specialist care she so desperately needed.“I went from thinking I had a blood nose to being told I require emergency brain surgery.”
Brooke underwent a biocranial craniotomy — a critical operation in which a bone flap is temporarily removed from the skull to access the brain. Eight plates were inserted to repair the damage to the bones around Brooke’s forehead.
Thanks to the generosity of people like you, Brooke is alive and here to tell the tale.
Several weeks later Brooke met the Doctor who cared for her in Alice Springs.
“His jaw almost hit the floor when I introduced myself,” remembers Brooke. He said ‘I can’t believe you’re alive and sitting here talking to me – I’ve never seen someone survive such serious head injuries.’”
Sadly, whilst Brooke hasn’t experienced any ongoing neurological damage, she has suffered permanent vision loss in her right eye. Just nine months later, Brooke was back working on the station, riding her beloved horses.
It’s thanks to your support that our crews are there for people like Brooke and their families, 24 hours a day, every day of the year. But they can’t do it without you.
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