Former patients generous boost for Wide Bay-Burnett RACQ LifeFlight Rescue chopper appeal

Larry Ray from Fraser Island and Doug Bignell from Gladstone today handed over donations of almost $15,000 to the appeal – as a thank you to the organisation that helped save their lives. Larry’s was the result of his two-month long Fraser Island fishing competition and Doug’s fundraising came from donations at his 50th birthday bash on the weekend.

Doug, from Beecher outside Gladstone, insisted that his friends didn’t bring presents to his milestone party on Saturday night – rather he asked them to give donations to the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue service.

Doug and wife Shanaugh travelled today down to Bundaberg base to meet the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue crew and hand over the proceeds from his birthday bash which he has donated to the Wide Bay-Burnett RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter rescue appeal.

“Presents aren’t important to me at this time of my life. I’m just lucky to be alive, thanks to RACQ LifeFlight Rescue, its air and medical crews and their fantastic skill and dedication,” he said.

“Just celebrating my birthday with friends and family and giving back to a great organisation were the best presents. If there is anything really important that I want to buy, I’ll buy it.”

On July 6, Doug was at Hervey Bay, for the Queensland Junior Touch Football State Cup. The night before he was due to referee his first match, he woke around 3am with intense chest pains. His head was spinning and the pain spread to his left shoulder and down his left arm.

The active and fit 49 year old was in shock when it happened.

“I thought, no way am I having a heart attack at age 49,” Doug said. 

His wife rang 000 and the ambulance arrived soon after and transferred him to Hervey Bay Hospital emergency department, which was at capacity. Paramedics stabilised him and organised for the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter to airlift him to Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital for further treatment.

Doug remembers his wife Shaunagh and two children waving him goodbye while the medical and air crew ensured he was stable and settled for the chopper take-off.

“I thought to myself ‘If we had have delayed treatment by not calling the ambulance when we did, there was a good chance I would be taking a different trip with a bleaker outlook,” Doug said.

 “That was the cheapest and most incredible helicopter ride I’ve ever had.”

Once at hospital, Doug received some good news – his heart attack was caused by myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) which was “the best outcome from a bad situation”.

A treatment plan was set up and he left hospital after spending five days there.

“Life is good now,” he said.

Another former patient and generous fundraiser, Larry Ray, also attended the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Bundaberg base to hand over a cheque for $13,000 – the proceeds of a massive fundraising effort organised at the Fraser Island Happy Valley Resort where Larry works as manager.

Larry was airlifted from Fraser Island to Bundaberg Base Hospital in early 2015 after suffering a stroke – his second stroke in a month.

“The crew of RACQ LifeFlight Rescue did an amazing job, and were so professional and caring in looking after me. They’re out there day or night anywhere, anytime. We watch and hear them land on Fraser Island all the time and I feel comforted knowing that someone else is in good hands just like I was,” said Larry.

After a period of rehabilitation, Larry returned to Fraser Island last year and returned to work. He has since been dedicated to fundraising for RACQ LifeFlight Rescue which culminated in his annual fishing competition at the Happy Valley Resort raising a record amount this year.

“My wife and all of the staff resort were fantastic in ensuring a massive fundraising effort where people who entered the comp donated $5 for every fish they weighed in,” Larry said.

“That was supported by a raffle of a North Queensland Cowboys jersey and an amazing donation of $5000 from the Pratt Philanthropy Foundation in Victoria which arose out of a chance conversation I had with a guest who was staying at our resort who knew the right people connected to the Foundation (founded by the late Visy cardboard founder Richard Pratt).”

This is the third year he has run the fishing comp and the second year he’s done it as a fundraiser for LifeFlight.

Frank Bertoli,the Bundaberg based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue chopper pilot and base lead, was flattered by Doug and Larry’s kind gestures.

“It’s incredible to see people are motivated to spend so much effort fundraising for us,” he said.

“On behalf of RACQ LifeFlight Rescue, I’d like to thank Doug, Larry, their families and everyone who donated to their fundraising efforts for their generous support.

“This is the kind of support that keeps our team going. And what everyone at LifeFlight was proud of doing yesterday will go on today, tomorrow and the next day.”

Wide Bay-Burnett businesses and individuals are also being encouraged to pledge their support today on Classic Hits 4BU and HITZ93.9.

In a first-time ‘phone-in’ partnership with a charity, Classic Hits 4BU and HITZ93.9 are showing their on-air support for the Rescue Chopper Appeal encouraging listeners to phone in their donation pledge.

In the past year, the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter crew has performed 262 missions in the Wide Bay-Burnett region, airlifting patients to receive urgent medical treatment whenever they need it.

The Wide Bay-Burnett RACQ LifeFlight Rescue chopper appeal now has just three weeks left. The crew still needs the support and donations of the Wide Bay-Burnett community so that the service can continue the lifesaving work that makes a significant difference to patients in their hour of need.

To donate call 1800 630 014 or visit