Community joins LifeFlight ‘birthday’ as former patient eyes off bright theatre future

Over 500 people joined the celebrations this weekend as RACQ LifeFlight Rescue hosted a family fun day at the Clive Berghofer LifeFlight centre to celebrate ten years of service in the Toowoomba and South West region.

Supporters and curious locals travelled from around the region to attend the event which included hangar tours, market stalls, a petting zoo, jumping castle and face painting. Long-time donor and supporter Clive Berghofer helped to cut the birthday cake, opening proceedings along with local helicopter pilot Dave Hampshire.

Leanne Angel, LifeFlight General Manager of Fundraising said the family fun day gave RACQ LifeFlight Rescue a chance to thank its local community. “The support of the community allows us to continue saving lives in the regional area 365 days of the year,” Ms Angel said.

“This day has been a way to say thank you to the Toowoomba and South West community for their generosity over the past ten years”.

Past patients shared their stories with the public and helped to mark the celebrations with members of the Toowoomba RACQ LifeFlight Rescue crew.

One such patient, local Campbell Lindsay, was reunited with the crew that helped save his life after he was seriously injured in 2012 during a schoolboy rugby game.

Equally comfortable on the sporting field and the stage, and with the world at his feet, the 16-year-old schoolboy was playing in a GPS rugby match when he broke his neck.

Prostrate and with a brace around his neck, the Toowoomba Grammar School student’s immediate concern was what the accident would mean for his leading role in the upcoming school production of Romeo and Juliet. “I wanted to get up and keep playing because I didn’t realise I was injured that badly,” he said.

But those around him, including his worried parents Jane and Daryl, realised the gravity of the situation and were more concerned if Campbell would walk again. He was transported by ambulance to the local hospital for testing which confirmed he had fractured vertebrae in his neck.

Jane Lindsay is convinced he would not have survived that fateful day if not for the prompt action and care of game officials, medical staff and the Toowoomba-based RACQ LifeFlight Helicopter rescue crew who picked him up from Toowoomba and flew him to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane for further assessment and treatment.

Campbell’s recollections of the day are quite vivid, despite the traumatic injuries. “I remember the crew were awesome,” he said.

“I was on pain killers so I didn’t know what was going on or the extent of my injuries. “A lot of things happened quickly. I didn’t see them after I was wheeled off the roof of the hospital which was a shame because I didn’t get to thank them, but today makes up for that.”

LifeFlight Community Engagement Officer South West, Nicole Bloom said it was wonderful for the crew and other LifeFlight staff to meet Campbell.

“Some patients have little or no recollection of the flight, crew or treatment because of their condition at the time, so reunions are the first chance they have to say thank you,” she said.

“Equally our crew members gain a tremendous amount of satisfaction from seeing the difference they have made in the lives of former patients.”

Recalling that fateful day, Jane Lindsay said the doctors at the PA Hospital were worried Campbell may not live and even asked him if he wanted to see a priest but Jane remained positive, telling them: “I’m not ready to say goodbye.”

After consultations between medical specialists, it was decided to fix a ‘halo’ ring to his head to prevent his head and neck moving. “It was painful being in the halo but there wasn’t a lot I could do about it,” Campbell said.

“I couldn’t move my upper body or look sideways. I could only bend at the waist. I could still walk as long as I had someone in front of me but only in a straight line and not over rough ground.”

Less than three weeks later, the Year 11 student later returned to school but needed three classmates around him at all times to support him.

“I was determined to keep on track with my school work because we were heading into a major exam period,” he said. “Some teachers said I should drop out because I was too far behind but there was no way I was going to do that. I just had to learn new ways of doing things including taking notes without being able to look down at my notepad. My mates carried my books around.”

To Campbell’s disappointment and after seven weeks in the halo, the doctors were not satisfied with his progress so he underwent more than six hours of surgery to insert a plate in his neck and fuse vertebrae.

The omens were good immediately after the operation with Campbell regaining a full range of movement and almost two weeks later he was back at school with a soft foam brace around his neck.

Jane wanted to “put him in bubble-wrap” but the doctors insisted he return to school and he was on board with that decision. “There was nearly a whole term of school left. I was determined not to let this injury rule me. I had to make allowances for the fact I had broken my neck by not playing contact sport but I was determined to live as normal a life as possible,” Campbell said.

Over the intervening period Campbell has completed years 11 and 12, winning the Toowoomba Mayoral award for academic excellence under adversity, and embarked on a Bachelor of Creative Arts at the University of Southern Queensland with a major in theatre and a minor in directing.

“I only got into acting and theatre because I couldn’t play rugby any more,” he said.

“I always liked drama at school but nothing big. I want to move to Brisbane and look for work. It has a thriving independent theatre scene. I am interested in becoming a director.”

As much as Campbell tries to put the accident behind him and not let the injury define him, his mother remembers the anniversary on 21 July each year and is full of appreciation to LifeFlight and everyone else who treated and cared for him. “We are so grateful to still have Campbell with us. Thank you,” Jane said.