Willow's story

Willow's story

“If I hear a helicopter overhead I feel sick thinking about the family that needed to call them for help. I will never forget that feeling of fear, and then hope when the chopper arrived to save my little girl”

Amanda Pepper.


Amanda and her husband Graeme were taking a first aid course and had left their one-year-old baby Willow with her grandparents (in the Coromandel). When Willow awoke, she was hot and limp so her grandparents rushed her to the doctors where Amanda and Graeme soon joined them. Willow had a 45-minute seizure and fell unconscious. In order to sedate her for the helicopter journey, it was necessary for doctors to drill into her bone marrow (shin) to inject the medicine needed to stabilise her. She was also heavily vomiting which caused her lungs to collapse due to aspirating on the vomit. 

The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust received the call and diverted a helicopter on its way to Waiheke, because a child emergency is a priority. The local ambulance and fire brigade transported Willow and her parents to the airfield. When the chopper and crew arrived, one of the team noticed on first observing Willow, that her lung had actually collapsed and that it would need to be suctioned and stabilised before she could fly. It took 20-25 minutes to stabilise Willow for transport while the crew also liaised with both Auckland and Waikato Hospitals to determine where to take her.

Amanda flew with Willow in the chopper to Waikato Hospital, while Graeme drove to meet them there. Because of Willow’s lung damage, the chopper flew so low that Amanda said she could read the cows tags as they flew across the fields! The pilot handled the turbulent winds and stress that is placed on a chopper when flying so low, while the crew on board did everything they could to relax Amanda, and look after Willow.

Inside the helicopter is a very noisy environment and, being so small, there were no ear muffs that would fit Willow’s little head.The doctor on board sat and covered her ears to help keep her calm, and avoid any future damage to her hearing. Amanda commented, that when they arrived at Waikato Hospital, she was so amazed and comforted by the chopper doctor who cradled Willow in his arms and comforted her until the hospital team arrived. The crew didn’t leave until Willow was in safe hands. Amanda, who is epileptic, was really worried she herself would have a seizure because of the shock. It was an incredibly traumatic experience for her.

Willow spent four days in hospital. Despite initial concerns that there was a likelihood of brain damage, she has made a full recovery. Amanda said that without the Westpac Rescue Helicoper and crew, Willow probably wouldn’t have survived. Prior to Willow’s rescue, the Pepper family were regular donors to Westpac Rescue helicopter appeal believing they are essential in a small community.


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