Aeromedical retrieval

For young stockman Jimmy McGlynn, it was just another day of mustering cattle on a remote cattle station in the Northern Territory.

Until he went missing - and resurfaced eight days later.

"I know I wouldn't have survived without the RFDS."

Graphic: Jimmy McGlynn

Jimmy just loves everything about being a "ringer" – the big blue skies and the wide open spaces – even the dust tastes like home. There's plenty of hard work and few creature comforts on a cattle station, but Jimmy is certain this is the life for him.

However, Jimmy has learnt the hard way that the stockman's life is not without its dangers.

Late one afternoon, on Helen Springs Station (680 kilometres north of Alice Springs) Jimmy was working with fellow ringer and his best mate, Peter, in cattle yards an hour's drive from the station's homestead. Just on dark, with their day's work done, Jimmy swapped his big cowboy hat for a helmet, and the two set off to return to their campsite, Jimmy riding a motorbike and Peter following in a four-wheel drive.

Jimmy doesn't remember what happened next.

Unseen, a steer crossed into Jimmy's path, causing them to collide, and Jimmy was thrown from his motorbike and fell heavily to the ground. The horrific scene unfolding before him, Peter pulled up urgently, a dust cloud filling the light thrown by his headlights. 

Jimmy had been knocked unconscious, was already convulsing, and soon threatened to choke on his own blood. Peter knew that Jimmy was in a bad way, but at least he was still breathing.

As the first stars looked down, two men were suddenly caught in a frantic struggle for survival.

Peter gave immediate First Aid, and sounded the alert on his two-way radio, notifying the station manager. Peter stayed by Jimmy's side while, seemingly a world away, an army of skilled helpers swung into action.

Very quickly a plan was in place to rush Jimmy to sophisticated medical care. The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) was contacted and an aircraft and retrieval team were urgently dispatched.

Other station staff arrived at the scene and painstakingly fitted Jimmy with a neck brace and lifted him first onto a stretcher, then onto the back of a truck, careful not to cause their patient any further harm.

With Jimmy wrapped in blankets to guard against the growing evening cold, the truck travelled 100 kilometres on a stock route to meet an ambulance travelling from Elliott, a tiny Stuart Highway settlement located halfway between Alice Springs and Darwin.

When the vehicles met, Jimmy was transferred to the ambulance for the remainder of the journey to Elliott, Peter still by his side.

When the ambulance arrived, the RFDS aircraft and crew were already waiting at Elliott's dirt airstrip. Jimmy's brother Ben, manager of neighbouring station Brunchilly, had also driven to Elliott and boarded the aircraft with Jimmy for his emergency aeromedical flight to the Royal Darwin Hospital.

RFDS Flight Nurse Julie Bird recalls the night she met Jimmy: "He was so badly injured. He was unresponsive, his pupils were fixed, and his blood pressure kept fluctuating."

"We gave him the very best care we could, but when we said goodbye to him in Darwin, I didn't hold out much hope for him."

Indeed, as further tests were conducted and diagnosis continued, the terrifying reality of Jimmy's brain injuries was revealed.

Graphic: aircraft landing

Jimmy had suffered a Defused Axonal Injury (DAI), one of the most devastating types of brain injuries. Often DAI patients never regain consciousness. Those that do often remain significantly impaired.

In addition, Jimmy's brain was bleeding in three different places, and he had sustained a fracture behind one eye socket and damage to his teeth.

Those moments marked the beginning of an incredible journey of healing and rehabilitation, in what can only be described as a remarkable recovery.

Incredibly, within just four months, Jimmy was back at work, back on his horse and mustering cattle, that big blue sky stretching above him once again.

"I know I wouldn't have survived without the RFDS, who urgently transferred me to Darwin," Jimmy reflects. "Just imagine – the doctors gave me a 1% chance of surviving, but here I am, back at work!"

With the youngsJimmy's journey back has been crowned with him being awarded the title of the "Territory's Best Male Ringer" in a competition run by ABC Rural.

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