22 Feb 2024
Lee from Auckland

It was New Year’s Day 2023, it was one of those perfect Masterton days, sunny with no wind. Lee had driven down from her home in Auckland to visit friends on their farm and was excited about the opportunity to ride one of their horses.

Lee climbed up on a beautiful young Clydesdale horse belonging to other friends. As an experienced rider, it never crossed Lee’s mind that she would get into an accident.

It certainly never crossed her mind that she would end up unconscious, with severe injuries including two broken legs, a broken neck a collapsed lung and damage to her kidney and spleen. A nightmare situation anyway that you look at it. But this is exactly the horrific situation Lee found herself in on that peaceful day in Masterton. All of this and there was no mobile phone coverage, and she was a two-and-a-half-hour drive over the windy and often treacherous Remutaka Hill road from the closest major hospital.

Lee had only been on the horse a short time before the animal started to buck. Lee clung on desperately, but eventually she was thrown off and landed hard on the rocky ground.

I could hear someone yelling my name. My friend tried to talk to me, but I couldn’t respond. Apparently, I was unconscious for about half a minute. I remember my right leg was up at a weird angle, and I couldn’t work out why I couldn’t move it. It was because it had been smashed at the hip, and all I could feel was pain.

Lee regained consciousness but her injuries were really severe. She didn’t know it at the time, but due to the sheer force of her fall Lee had broken both her legs, all of her ribs, as well as her neck, wrist, arm and back. She also had a collapsed lung and had damage to her kidney and spleen. As you can imagine without urgent medical treatment, Lee would likely have died. But the drive was a windy and challenging two-and-a-half-hour drive to the nearest major hospital. Her best chance of survival was getting to hospital and fast. Her best chance of survival was the Westpac Rescue Helicopter and the Life Flight crew.

Lee’s accident happened in such a remote area that none of her friends had mobile phone reception. One of the farm workers had to drive out to the road to call 111. Within 30 minutes, Lee could hear the Westpac Rescue Helicopter approaching. Despite being in unimaginable pain her first thought, being the animal lover she is, was that the noise of the helicopter could scare the foals that were nearby. Her second thought was “I’m going to be alright. These guys are professionals”.

Pilot James knew he was flying to a remote farming district. As he flew to the GPS coordinates for the farm, he could see from the air people and horses in the yards. He did his best to avoid spooking the animals whilst getting Paramedic Serah as close as possible to Lee. James landed the Westpac Rescue Helicopter in a paddock and surveyed the scene.

“Lee was lying on the ground and obviously in significant distress and pain. My colleague Wellington Free Ambulance Flight Paramedic Serah quickly set to work to identify the extent of Lee’s injuries and to help ease some of her pain. Serah did an incredible job of keeping Lee calm and working to identify the extent of her injuries and helping to ease Lee’s pain. Due to the extent of her injuries, it was decided that Lee would have to be transported directly to Wellington Regional Hospital.”

By ambulance, the hospital was a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. The Westpac Rescue Helicopter was able to make the same trip in just 35 minutes. Those two hours could have likely meant the difference between life and death for Lee. Once the crew landed at Wellington Hospital, Lee was immediately taken into surgery and treated for her extensive injuries.

James and Serah and crewman were able to jump into action the moment Lee’s emergency call came in. Not only were they able to get to Lee as quickly as possible with intensive medical care and pain relief, but they also saved her a long and dangerous drive over the Remutaka ranges with a broken neck and back. A drive that no one in Lee’s situation should ever have to face.

Even after multiple surgeries – including a hip replacement – Lee was not out of the woods. Two days after Lee’s dramatic rescue, Life Flight was called on again. This time, our dedicated Air Ambulance Crew was needed to transport Lee from Wellington Hospital to North Shore Hospital for more surgeries. When someone is as injured as Lee was, even moving from place-to-place needs specialist medical care and the safest transport possible.

Lee has spent some time recovering in a rehabilitation centre. She is now home and recovering slowly but surely, she still can’t put any weight on one of her legs and she can’t use her hip. But she knows she is lucky to even be alive.

"There was a moment when I thought I would die. And I just had faith that the Life Flight crew was there and that they knew what they were doing. Thank you, from my family and me, for donating to Life Flight. I hate to think what would have happened without the Westpac Rescue Helicopter. I hope you will keep supporting – I know I will!"