Boy who lost thumb in rodeo arena reunites with LifeFlight jet crew

There has been a heart-warming reunion at the LifeFlight Townsville base this morning, as 14-year-old Riley Schmidt met the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Air Ambulance jet crew who airlifted him to Brisbane after his thumb was severed in a rodeo arena incident, earlier this year. 

“It’s pretty special to see the crew again,” said Riley Schmidt. 

“I’m really grateful they were able to get me to Brisbane so quickly.” 

In February, the budding bull-riding star was practicing for the Townsville rodeo season, when his usual training took a turn for the worst. 

The then 13-year-old had been learning new drills as a rodeo clown – the person who distracts the bull to allow its rider to exit the arena safely – when the bull began to charge at him. 

In an attempt to get out of harm’s way, Riley ran to jump over the fence and out of the arena.

As he grabbed the fence, the hefty bull kicked at him, smashing his hand into the railing and severing his thumb.

“I didn’t really believe it happened at first,” said Riley. 

“I thought I had just peeled my nail off or something silly like that. Then I looked down to blood running down my hand, it got pretty real pretty quickly after that.”

Riley and his mum, Christina, were rushed to Townsville Hospital, where it was decided Riley required urgent specialised care in a Brisbane hospital, and would need to be flown that same night by the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Air Ambulance jet – as tasked by Queensland Health. 

When he was admitted to hospital in Brisbane, Riley underwent five separate surgeries, over ten days. Unfortunately, his thumb couldn’t be successfully reattached.

Today, Riley and his mum returned to the LifeFlight Townsville base, to give thanks to the crew who were able to get him to Brisbane, as well as tour one of the jets. 

“We see many patients, but Riley was a memorable one, because he was full of beans and full of character,” said RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Air Ambulance jet pilot Brad Jackson.  

“It was great to be able to see him again today.”

Several months later, and despite the awful injury, which his family thought might end the Townsville teen’s bull-riding days, Riley is back on the bull and determined to stay in the arena.

Inspired by the LifeFlight crew’s efforts, to help Riley that stressful night, the Schmidt family have decided to give back and support the aeromedical service, by asking the Bartlett Park Rodeo Committee, of which Christina is the secretary, to adopt LifeFlight as their September charity rodeo beneficiary.

“A lot of rural people benefit from the fact that RACQ LifeFlight Rescue is here, ready to help. These guys are here 24/7, they’re specialised, and they’re amazing,” said Riley’s mum, Christina Schmidt. 

One-dollar from each ticket sold at the third-party event will be generously donated to LifeFlight.

The event will be held in Townsville on the 17th of September.

LifeFlight Australia is a world leader in aeromedical care, with a core purpose to save lives and service the community. The non-for-profit organisation provides it’s emergency medical care to Queenslanders, 24/7, 365 days a year, via it’s iconic RACQ LifeFlight Rescue community helicopters and Air Ambulance jets, and bolstered by it’s RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Critical Care Doctors, who work on board aircraft across the state.