The 41-year-old mother from Hampton, outside Toowoomba, recently visited the Toowoomba base with husband Matt and son Charley, aged 4, to meet with the LifeFlight aeromedical crew who have just experienced another record year for saving lives in the South-West region.
At 19 years of age, Jennifer Turner was a successful horse rider and trainer who dreamed of a long career, but her ambitions were taken away from her in a shocking car accident near Kingaroy that nearly killed her, claimed the life of a friend and impacted a whole community.
It has taken more than two decades for the Darling Downs local to come to terms with the day her life changed forever. She credits her survival to the crew of the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter who airlifted her that dreadful day.
In June 1995, Jennifer and three other girls were on their way home to Kingaroy after a crew training day at McDonald’s in Brisbane when the unthinkable happened.
At dusk, a 20-year-old driver and three passengers including Jennifer were travelling down a narrow country road when the Mazda 121 hit a pot-hole launching the vehicle into the air and flipping it onto the side of the road.
“The car was going too fast, then the next second we were airborne and that’s the last thing I remember because I was knocked unconscious,” said Jennifer.
Jennifer was sitting in the back seat of the hatchback behind the driver – she was crushed and her two 16-year-old friends who were still alive couldn’t help her.
“I got squashed from the boot which is how I broke my back and the front seat squashed in my face. My injuries were horrific,” remembers Jennifer.
Jennifer was in a critical condition with collapsed lungs, bleeding on the brain, broken back, fractured neck, broken fingers, broken jaw and cheek bones, smashed teeth as well as a severed optical nerve.
With darkness approaching and the car not easily visible from the road, one of the girls thought to put her jumper on the fence to help emergency crews find the wreckage. The other girl ran to a nearby farm for help.
Jennifer was trapped in the car for one hour before being transported by road ambulance to Kingaroy Hospital and then airlifted by the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter to the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
Before the helicopter departed Kingaroy, her mother and older sister were told by hospital staff to say their last goodbyes to her as they thought she might not survive the airlift to Brisbane.
“The doctor on the flight had to manually pump the oxygen bag to keep me alive the whole flight to Brisbane,” said Jennifer.
“They were incredible. No one thought I would make it. We owe my life to Lifeflight. Just to be walking and talking alive today is a miracle.”
The once active teenager’s recovery was slow and difficult with several operations including a face reconstruction and two painful back surgeries. She had also lost the sight in one eye and needed to learn to talk again because her vocal cords were damaged.
“I was in an induced coma for two weeks. I basically needed to learn to walk again, first small steps up and down the hallway with a walker and then on my own. My family went through so much stress at this time,” remembers Jennifer.
It was two years before Jennifer could resume a ‘normal’ life. But pursuing her passion for working with horses was no longer possible after the accident.
“It literally changed the course of all of our lives. I had only just competed at the National Show Horse of the Year and won Queensland Show Horse of the Year,” she said.
“I struggled for a long time after the accident to come to terms with not being able to ride and work with horses anymore because of my injuries.
“When that was taken away from me it was a really difficult and upsetting time.”
However fast-forward 22 years, Jennifer lives a happy life on a beautiful 80-acre property at Hampton, about 30 minutes from Toowoomba, with husband Matt and four-year-old son Charley.
While she has daily reminders of that terrible day, including back pain and blindness in one eye she manages to focus on the positives in her life.
“While I am inhibited from doing some activities, I really am blessed to be alive, let alone walking and able to raise my own family,” said Jennifer.
“To look at me you would never know how badly I was injured. My story really does represent a miracle.”
2016-17 was a record year for LifeFlight for lifesaving missions with its aeromedical crews, community helicopters and Air Ambulance jets performing a record 5,252 missions throughout Queensland and around the world.
LifeFlight is a community-based charity that relies on donations from the public and community support to the LifeFlight Foundation.
To support the LifeFlight Foundation visit:https://www.lifeflight.org.au/page/support-us/