On 4 July 2020, 15-year-old Kiarna Bowman was riding her motorbike on the family property when the back tire blew out making her lose control and crash, hitting her head hard on the ground, the impact knocking her unconscious. Her two brothers were close by and noticed she was not moving. 9-year-old Nathan ran to get mum, Carmel and 14-year-old Tom raced to be by Kiarna’s side.
NSW Ambulance was called and due to the access on the property, the Rescue Helicopter was dispatched. The helicopter landed on the property, Kiarna was treated by the critical care team and then transferred to Gold Coast University Hospital.
Kiarna was placed into a coma due to her head injury. Surgery was performed of which her skull was cut to clear a blood clot that was forming from under it. Kiarna also had fractures in her spine that fortunately did not cause any long term paralysis.
After her recovering from her surgeries, approximately 3 weeks from her accident, Kiarna was transferred to Brisbane to start her rehabilitation. Exercises specific to balance were the focus plus building strength in her legs, improving motor function and speech work. Astoundingly a week after treatment she was well enough to return home.
Kiarna had just moved into a new room at home and this caused some confusion as she returned, still struggling a little with some cognitive functions. To add to that she also had just started at a new school and would often become confused trying to remember everyday things. Her return to school was just for a couple of hours per day and built over the weeks. Kiarna will complete year 10 this year.
Kiarna’s strength is building every day as she is keen to hop on her motorbike again but knows this won’t be for a little while yet.
Kiarna, like many of our Rescue Club member, does not remember her ride in the helicopter and was in awe on how big the AW139 was when she visited the Lismore Helibase in October. Kiarna also had the opportunity to meet the paramedic who was part of her mission on base, Rolan Murcott.
Kiarna is one of 7 siblings, with 6 brothers and is one of 2 sisters. Her mum Carmel certainly has a lot on her hands and Kiarna has asked her mum to make one promise to her; that if she gets to ride in a helicopter again, “no matter what, just wake me up”.
On 23 November 2017, Scott Jones was at work at the Lismore Turf Club tidying the downstairs catering room for an upcoming event. The room had previously been closed and he noticed an off smell but didn’t think anything of it. A smoker at the time, Scott went to light a cigarette. The room flashed orange; the light had ignited a slow gas leak that had filled the room, causing an explosion and then fire.
Scott was in the middle of the fire his clothes alight and skin melting under the intense heat. Reacting quickly, still unable to see, Scott dropped to the floor and felt for the door, pushed it open to escape. Scott tore his burning shirt away from his body and ran to the jockey rooms. Reaching for his keys in his pocket, skin tore away from his hands. Using the keys to unlock the jockey room Scott turned on the shower and called for help.
The trainers and jockeys had heard the large explosion as it rang out across the Turf Club and come running to find if anyone was hurt. Originally thinking that Scott was still in the room, they were relieved for a moment to find him under the shower. An ambulance had already been called and Scott looked down to see his legs were expanding of which he thought they were filling with water, however, they were reacting the burns he had sustained.
Scott was already thinking about going to hospital of which his wife Liz was a mid-wife. Phone calls started going out to get in touch with her.
When the ambulance arrived Scott was wrapped in wet blankets and given ketamine for pain relief. Scott talked of how everything became pixelated for him as the drugs moved through his system. Transferred to Lismore Hospital by road ambulance Scott was no longer coherent, he could not speak or move but could still hear clearly.
Scott needed specialist treatment and there was a moment where he was about to be transferred to Sydney away from his family but instead the Lismore based helicopter became available to transfer him to Royal Brisbane Hospital. A better result for Scott’s family with the Queensland based hospital only being 2.5hrs away from Lismore rather than 12 hours to Sydney. This would make all the difference in Scott’s family being able to access him during recovery.
Scott was placed in to an induced coma and transferred with the critical care team in the Rescue Helicopter to the Royal Brisbane Hospital. Scott spent 11 days in the intensive care unit and then was transferred to the burns ward of which he stayed until 2 January 2018.
Scott three children George (12), Sammy (10) and Stella (6) where looked after by their grandparents for many months. They were well supported by their school St Carthages and life was kept as normal as possible for them while Liz and Scott were in Brisbane for the months of recovery. Scott spoke of the moment when his children first saw him “wrapped as a mummy” and said they were stand offish at first but quickly got used to Scott’s condition.
Recovery for burns victims is long and painful, burns baths, scrubbing of the skin, skin grafts, surgeries and physiotherapy. Scott remembers Christmas Eve 2017 to be the most painful day of his life due to the burn baths he had to endure. While in a coma the drugs gave Scott horrific nightmares and the voices of the nurses around him infiltrated in to his sub-consciousness. Scott said he knew staff by their voices before he saw them face to face.
Scott was lucky enough to be part of a trial of a new treatment for burns victims, only the third person in Australia to be part of this trial. Scott also had to rebuild his strength which deteriorated while he was in hospital.
Coming home was one a memory that Scott holds on to. The unexpected support from the community was overwhelming, Lismore people had rallied to fundraise for Scott’s wife Liz to stay in Brisbane and not have to work while he went through treatment. Scott said people who didn’t even know him contributed.
In July 2018 Scott returned to work back at the Turf Club on light duties, however keen to restore a sense of normality and not think about the accident. Scott spends time at the gym to regain his strength and cardio capacity as well as undergo hand therapy and physiotherapy. His recovery is ongoing, with laser surgeries as well as physio and chiro therapies.
One thing that has helped Scott is playing golf once a week. This consistency has not only improved his handicap but also helped stretch his hands. While on the course in September Scott was playing a gentleman who he found out was the paramedic on his mission. This unexpected meeting on the golf course by chance was incredibly moving for both Scott and paramedic Trent Buckley.
Scott’s recovery will be lifelong. He is undergoing counselling for his accident, similar to veterans or fire victims who have undergone burns trauma. Scott needs to stay out of the sun and continually work on stretching his skin and strengthening his body.
Scott remains positive and enjoys time with his family, being part of the community and working at the Turf Club. He also has not smoked since that day.
Kirsty Stephenson survived a horrific head-on motor vehicle accident in January 2019 on the Summerland Way, 20kms north of Grafton. Tragically this same accident claimed the life of her husband Stephen who was driving at the time.
Kirsty was in a serious condition and was resuscitated at the scene. Kirsty was resuscitated twice more in the Rescue Helicopter and says she was “…kept alive by the Helicopter Medical Team until they got me to the Gold Coast University Hospital”.
I can’t imagine how I would have copped as a first responder to an accident such as this. I can only praise those who were, and all the Emergency Service’s that respond on a regular basis such as the NSW Police/Fire/Ambulance, SES, Rural Fire Brigades and Volunteer Rescue Associations. These Services provide vital assistance from the scene of an emergency to the Rescue Helicopter when it is tasked to respond.
For Kirsty, the account of her internal injuries is hard to fathom as she underwent major surgery to her bowel, stomach and diaphragm. There was swelling and bleeding on her brain with a total of 5 blood transfusions being performed. Kirsty also endured 2 strokes which left her blind for 10 days and with no use of her left-hand side.
Kirsty had to learn to walk again and the steps she took when she walked into our Lismore helibase some 8 months later with her daughter Kristal, left everyone in the team captivated by her story of heartache and will power to overcome such incredible odds.
Fittingly for Kristal, after witnessing her mother’s extensive medical treatment and completing her Year 12 year, she is now seeking to become a paramedic.
Our Rescue Teams and the patients we transport experience firsthand the direct impact your support is having and the incredible outcomes being made possible for people like Kirsty.