Graphic: flying through a storm

Mercy flight through the storm

Date published

03 Aug 2015

RFDS pilots sometimes have to battle heavy rain, bushfires and strong winds to get patients to hospital. As new mother Claire discovered in Albany, WA, sick newborns can’t wait out a storm for emergency medical treatment.

In the days leading up to the arrival of my first child Sophie in 2008, my husband and I were excited, nervous and looking forward to meeting our little one. But on a night in November, as a huge storm raged outside our Albany home, I realized something wasn't right. At four days overdue, Sophie had suddenly stopped moving. Within two hours I was in the hospital operating theatre under anesthetic while doctors fought to get Sophie out in time to save her life.

When I woke my husband told me that Sophie had been tangled in the umbilical cord, which had been wrapped six times around her legs, cutting off her oxygen supply. She was born not breathing and without a heartbeat. Because of her lack of oxygen she was seriously unwell with a type of brain injury.

Due to the massive weather storm rolling through at the time, the RFDS wasn't able to land at first. But, they didn't give up. Thanks to the persistence of the crew, Sophie got to Perth about 12 hours after birth.

The moment she was born, Albany hospital had called the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the pilot battled through a ferocious storm to get to Albany and transport Sophie to Princess Margaret Hospital in Perth for urgent treatment. As a result of the loss of oxygen at birth, Sophie required hypothermic treatment that is most effective if administered within six hours. Albany Hospital did an amazing job of starting the process in time, but the clock was ticking.

Graphic: Baby Sophie in the NICU

I didn't know when I would get to see my baby again, but next day the RFDS came to the rescue and picked me up. Not even the combination of major abdominal surgery, a chronic fear of flying, a small plane and a whole lot of bad weather could stop me rushing to my child, who was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Throughout the flight, the RFDS nurse cared for me and two other patients, and we managed to laugh as the pilot joked about practicing for the Red Bull Air Race.

That the RFDS was able to fly me up from Albany to Perth the day after Sophie's birth, so that I could be by her side while her life was still in the balance, was one of the most compassionate and meaningful things anyone has ever done for me.

Sophie received treatment for her brain injury in the intensive care unit at Princess Margaret hospital and spent 26 days there. Thankfully, despite a very poor initial prognosis and two years of various therapies, she has made a complete recovery, partly because of the prompt treatment she received at birth.

She's now in Year One at school, is a very loving big sister, and is thriving in every respect.

Your help during that time will always mean so much to us.

"We are incredibly grateful to the RFDS and we owe Sophie's life and her quality of life to the prompt help she received on the day she was born" - Claire Greer