April 4th started as another ordinary day in extraordinary lockdown on the family’s King Country property. Craig, a helicopter contractor, and his children Helena and Oliver were outside enjoying the weather and isolated freedom on their 3 acre block.
Oliver, a keen outdoors kid, took to his motorbike and rode around the paddock, navigating the usual bumps and turns. He approached the brow of a hill and hit a dry sheep rut that gave way. The bike slipped beneath him and his lower body smashed on top of the bike, its foot peg piercing his inner thigh, tearing through his femoral artery.
Fortunately Craig was just seconds from his 10 year old son and immediately raced to his aid. Oliver’s thigh hosed blood uncontrollably, convincing Craig a main artery had been torn. Unfortunately at the speed Oliver was losing blood, it was only a matter of seconds before his blood loss would be fatal. Due to first aid training and experience in his helicopter pilot role, Craig knew he had to urgently stem the bleed, so he grabbed the torn skin either side of Oliver’s deep thigh wound and drew them together forming a clamp with his hands.
During this time, daughter Helena had alerted mum Marama, who called 111. An ambulance was dispatched immediately, arriving at the Te Kuiti property within minutes. Despite his severe injury and significant blood loss, Oliver remained calm and quiet throughout, comforted by his dad who relentlessly held his fragile wound together. Oliver’s life was in his father’s hands.
Although local ambulance staff were in attendance, Craig was reluctant to release his secure grip on Oliver’s laceration aware further blood loss could cost his son. Once assured it was safe to release, the ambulance paramedic took over and confirmed Oliver’s horrific injury, the size of a saucer, required urgent surgical attention. By road the hour long drive to Waikato Hospital could risk Oliver’s life, which meant calling for swift air transfer was essential.
With the local fire brigade now on site, the Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived minutes later, prolonged by strict COVID-19 safety procedures. As the aircraft flew over the property, the distinctive sound of the chopper approaching bought the family immense emotional relief. Although a pilot himself, flying his own helicopter regularly, the familiar sound of a helicopter changed for Craig that day,
“The gravity of the rescue helicopter’s ability to save my son’s life and take him to the safety of surgeons was overwhelming,” says Craig, “when I saw the Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter it was like a steel stallion in the sky. Then I saw the familiar face of fellow pilot and peer, Loren, and I knew my son was in safe hands”.
An aspiring pilot and helicopter enthusiast, as the Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter landed Oliver declared “Look, I’m going to hospital in the BK-117.”
Once landed, the Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter intensive care paramedic prepared Oliver for his transfer, sedating him and supporting his mum, Marama who accompanied her son onboard.
Eight minutes after take-off Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived at Waikato Hospital, delivering Oliver into the safety of the receiving medical team. Oliver had three surgical sessions, including a femoral popliteal bypass, spending over 14 hours in surgery with the Vascular team.
After time in the high observation unit, Oliver spent the week in hospital recovering with Marama by his side. Due to COVID-19 Level 4 restrictions, Craig and Oliver’s sister, Helena weren’t permitted to join them, which made it difficult for the close-knit family.
Oliver has since had further surgery and is recovering well. As the April accident is still recent the long-term effects of the damage to his vascular system remains unknown. Although the accident at their home happened under the uncertainty of lockdown, the family feel the support and extra attention received by Oliver from hospital staff and the Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew was remarkable, potentially due to less pressure on resources and essential workers.
The family express they are eternally grateful for the vital community service Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter provides and the skilled medical flight team behind it. Oliver’s survival was a team effort; both Craig’s swift action to curb the bleed, and the rescue crew’s safe transfer to Waikato Hospital helped save Oliver’s 10-year-old life.