Graphic: tessa-cattleyards

Four year old Tessa survives deadly snakebite

Mother of five, Sonia, will never forget the day her four-year-old daughter Tessa got bitten by a king brown snake in their home in Suplejack Downs station, a remote settlement 750km north of Alice Springs.

“Tessa’s cousin ran in to tell my sister and me that something had bitten Tessa. A moment later Tessa stumbled in and she just sort of dropped onto the ground screaming.

When I saw the puncture wound on her leg, I think there was a bit of disbelief. I was looking at it, and going, ‘no, it can’t possibly have been a snake", Sonia recalls.

Snakes are a common sight in Australia, even right here in Victoria, but when you live an eight-hour drive from your local hospital a snakebite can be deadly, especially for a little girl like Tessa. 

Having lived in the Outback for many years, Tessa’s mum Sonia knew how quickly a snakebite could kill and that the clock was ticking.

Tessa lives in a remote location

“Living on a remote station, you make sure you know how to deal with emergencies like this. Being just four, Tessa was a bit distressed as you can imagine. So first thing I did was try to calm her down.  

While I reassured her, my sister went to the RFDS Medical Chest that was on the property. She put a compression bandage on her leg, with a splint behind it to immobilise it. Then, with the first aid done, that’s when I rang for the help of the Flying Doctor.”

In remote settlements, where there are no doctors or nurses for miles around, the Flying Doctor operates a system that allows people to contact us directly for emergency assistance. 

The aircraft was soon on its way, equipped with everything our highly trained team could need to keep Tessa alive.

Dr Donal Watters has been a doctor with RFDS for 11 years. He has been involved with many aeromedical rescues and seen his fair share of snakebites.  

“The bite Tessa received was very dangerous, easily capable of killing her. In fact, if a child like Tessa didn’t receive competent first aid it could take as little as 15 minutes for the venom to kill them," Dr Watters explains. 

When the aircraft arrived, the medical team inserted a catheter in Tessa’s arm to administer painkillers and anything else she might need during the flight, whilst a range of intensive care equipment monitored her vital functions carefully.

Tessa and her pet

Tessa survived because of her mum Sonia’s quick thinking and knowledge on how to deal with the snakebite and because of the Flying Doctor’s ability to get to the family so urgently. 

Families like Tessa’s depend on the Flying Doctor for their safety, and often their lives. 

Your donation this Christmas will help keep the Flying Doctor in the air and on the road to be there for you and your loved ones – no matter where you live, work or travel in regional and remote parts of Australia.