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A rescuers’ tale of rescue

As a rural firefighter in Hatton Vale, a small town 80 kilometres outside of Brisbane, Sandy Morris knows all too well the life-and-death difference that emergency services can make in rural communities. 

Up until the end of last year, 24-year old Sandy was in the line of duty every day as an active firefighter, attending his own fair share of wildfires and car accidents in the local area. 

But that was all before the seizures started.  

“I had been having seizures for about 18 months,” recalls Sandy who was airlifted in early February by the Toowoomba-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter. Today the rescuer-turned-patient returned to the base to say a big thankyou to his own rescuers.

“It started off with me being taken by ambos (sic) to Gatton Hospital on February 6 this year with recurring seizures. But they couldn’t get the seizures stopped or under control in Gatton so the Toowoomba LifeFlight base sent out a doctor and aircrewman to assess me.”

Driving down from Toowoomba, a LifeFlight Critical Care Doctor and Aircrewman arrived at Gatton Hospital to assess Sandy’s condition and, if deemed necessary, task the helicopter down to airlift Sandy to a higher level of hospital care.

When the LifeFlight Critical Care Doctor arrived, it became clear Sandy needed urgent medical treatment and a rapid-response airlift by the Toowoomba-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter.

“I was put into an induced coma and intubated, but still nothing managed to stop the seizures,” said Sandy. 

With no helipad available for landing at Gatton Hospital, LifeFlight Pilot, Simon Newman had to find the next best alternative which proved to be the Gatton Showgrounds.

Under darkness, State Emergency Services and Queensland Police Service personnel worked to clear a landing pad, removing debris and shining spotlights to light the way for the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue chopper.  

While all this has been witnessed and relayed to him through a friend who was there with him, it’s a scene that was very familiar for Sandy.

In 2014, when Sandy was working as a rural firefighter he was called to assist rescue crews with a serious car accident in the Hatton Vale area. 

The injuries the driver and passenger sustained were severe and another rescue helicopter, the Queensland Government helicopter, QGAir was called to the scene.

“Rescue 500 was dispatched and our job then became to prepare a landing site and make sure there was no debris that could flick up into the rotor tails. We also had to provide lining for the area and make sure it was all lit up,” remembers Sandy.

Three years on and Sandy never thought it would be his life that would need saving. 

The RACQ LifeFlight Rescue chopper landed at the Gatton Showgrounds in the middle of the night, and Sandy was airlifted to the Princess Alexander Hospital in Brisbane where he underwent a series of tests and treatment.

While Sandy is now out of hospital, doctors have been unable to identify the cause and sudden onset of his seizures. This has been frustrating for him, with limited treatment options leaving him unable to work. Regular and lengthy stays in hospital have also meant time away from his baby girl.

“They think it’s dissociative seizure disorders which are epilepsy-based, but there’s no full diagnosis yet. We’re just playing around with medications,” he said. 

As a rural firefighter, Sandy knows just how little recognition emergency services can receive, which is why today he made sure he got the chance to say thank you in person to the crew who helped save his life. 

“I wanted to say thank you to everyone who was involved in the mission” he said. 

“Being in the rural fire service you don’t often get someone coming back saying thank-you for your service. So I thought it would be good if I could say thank-you and help raise a bit of awareness for LifeFlight.”

Today at the Toowoomba LifeFlight base Sandy was given that chance, meeting RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Paramedic, Phil Kendrick.

It was a joyous occasion for Sandy and all his family who know how lucky he is to still be alive. 

Sandy’s mum, Lisa posted her thanks on the LifeFlight Facebook page saying: “Without you guys the outcome could have been very different, thank you all so much.” 

While Sandy is still receiving treatment for his seizures, he hopes to soon be back in the shoes of the rescuer, fighting fires and helping those in his community.