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Minerís long and miraculous journey back to life

A Central Queensland man seriously injured in a head-on collision has returned to say a simple “thank you” to the LifeFlight aeromedical crew who helped save his life after a horrific car accident last year. 

Bowen man Paul Anderson has always been a tough and resilient person, but his character truly shone in the face of adversity after his high-speed accident last November when he was driving to work.

The 49-year old father visited the Brisbane base this week to see the LifeFlight Air Ambulance jet, sponsored by RACQ, and to meet fixed wing pilot John Cornett who flew him from Mackay to Brisbane.

As an aviation enthusiast himself, Paul was eager to see the cockpit of the Lear 45 jet and was even shown the controls by LifeFlight pilot, John. 

Paul’s small hatchback was no match for the large four wheel drive it collided with on November 4 last year, on the stretch of highway he drove to work each day from his home in Bowen to the Collinsville Coal Mine.

“I was on my way to work in the mine just outside of Collinsville when suddenly my memory goes blank,” said Paul. 

He doesn’t remember the screeching tyres, crushing metal on metal, or even the impact of the head-on collision. It’s the physical injuries and psychological trauma that serve as a constant reminder.

Paul was trapped for more than three hours as Queensland Fire Emergency Service personnel and Queensland Ambulance Service paramedics worked to free him from the wreckage. Paul suffered serious and extensive injuries that could have easily been fatal.

The impact of the accident crushed Paul’s arm against the driver’s side door. The tendons in his right arm were severed which caused irreversible damage.

“My arm was effectively severed,” said Paul, who has no recollection of the accident and has pieced together what happened from talking to the doctors and nurses who treated him.

After hours of being trapped unconscious in his car, Paul was finally freed and rapidly flown to Mackay Hospital by the local rescue helicopter service, RACQ CQ Rescue.
“I woke up the following day in Mackay Hospital. I wouldn’t have the arm now if I wasn’t flown to Mackay by the helicopter rescue service,” said Paul. 

“Doctors were saying I had lost too much blood from my arm already and my hand had almost completely lost circulation.”

Paul’s battered body was covered in cuts and bruises and he also suffered extensive pelvic, rib and leg injuries. 

The priority was to reattach Paul’s arm. He spent more than eight hours in surgery in Mackay Hospital the next day, where doctors partially reattached his arm to a metal frame. He also regained a small amount of circulation in his hand.

The complex surgery was the first step in Paul’s long road to recovery and the following day he was airlifted by LifeFlight’s Air Ambulance jet, sponsored by RACQ, to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital for further marathon surgery.

In 2015-16 LifeFlight Air Ambulance treated and transported 245 patients around Australia and around the world, flying to 56 destinations – a 10% increase on lifesaving missions on the previous year. LifeFlight has three jets strategically placed in Brisbane, Townsville and Singapore.

Paul remembers the expert medical care he received on the LifeFlight airlift and how much the little things meant to him in his moment of crisis.

“You hear people say ‘these medical staff are angels’ but you can’t really understand it until you experience it first hand,” he said.

“When you’re at the lowest point in your life like that, and the crew on those planes take the time to smile at you, talk to you and help you feel better, it means so much when you’re down.”

When he arrived at Brisbane Airport, Paul was taken to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital via road ambulance and spent another 17 hours in the operating theatre.

“It was a fairly decent sized surgery involving orthopaedics and plastic surgery,” he said. 

Over the next six weeks in hospital, countless surgeries followed which has helped Paul to regain partial movement in his arm – regarded as a medical miracle by his doctors.

“My arm is back on now. It was re-attached using bits and pieces from the rest of my body to fill in the gaps,” said Paul. 

“Nerves and ligaments were taken from my left arm and groin. It doesn’t look the prettiest thing, but hey, it’s there.”

Five months on from his accident and Paul is still living in Brisbane with his parents and attends physical and occupational therapy sessions three times a week at the hospital.

Some days, Paul doesn’t feel as if he’s made much progress. But the fact that the movement and flexibility in his hand increases by millimetres each time is enough of a positive sign to keep him motivated.

“I have a bit of movement and it’s coming back slowly,” said Paul.

“Sometimes it feels like nothing to me but you’ll go to hospital and they’ll tell you you’ve advanced by one degree. We’re improving but I don’t know when I’ll get back to work.”

Paul has struggled with his disability and it has been the greatest challenge of his life.

But after months of hard work, rehabilitation and the support of his family and three children, Paul has started to adjust to his new life. 

“You get out of this life what you put in, and I’m putting in the work. There’s just no point in being sad,” he said.