But for her mother, Kate Bailey, watching her ‘miracle child’ Aneeka grow up is something she didn’t think she would ever get to experience.
Kate, Aneeka and her son, Cooper, who was also airlifted by RACQ LifeFlight Rescue met pilot, Brent Hall and Air Crewman, Rick Harvey at the Sunshine Coast base yesterday to say thanks and hand over two collection tins as a donation.
“Aneeka wasn’t meant to be here,” remembers Kate, who over the past decade has struggled with what can only be described as every family’s worst nightmare.
“I lost my water with Aneeka at 17 weeks. I immediately went to the hospital and the doctor told me she had no kidneys and that she was deformed.
“I remember asking the doctor what were the chances of me having a baby and he told me, ‘there are no chances.’ I went home to die with my baby.”
When Kate was taken to the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital (RBWH) with bleeding a few weeks later, she was amazed to hear the doctors say Aneeka had a fighting chance.
She was later induced and Aneeka was born 12 weeks premature on August 1, 2007. This would mark the first of many odds that would start to stack against her.
After spending eight weeks in the RBWH with her daughter in neonatal incubation, Kate finally returned to her Gympie home to raise Aneeka alongside her three older brothers.
“When she came home she was on oxygen because she was born so early,” said Kate.
With her lungs not fully developed, all it took was a common cold to send Aneeka into full respiratory distress.
“I remember looking down one day and thinking, ‘this kid is not breathing properly – this is not right,” said Kate.
Aneeka was rushed to Nambour Hospital but she became critically ill and the Sunshine Coast-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter was called to perform a rapid-response airlift to the RBWH.
“It was really hard, especially at that point because we’d fought so hard to keep her alive. For her to go off in a chopper, it felt like they were taking my baby away,” she said.
“In her short life, Aneeka had by that time spent more time in hospital wards than the outside world.
“She ended up on life support in ICU. It was touch and go, we lost her a number of times.
“Hope came in the form of a new trial drug. We were going to lose Aneeka so they asked if we would be willing to try it. Of course we said yes and three days later she was out of ICU and back in the general ward. It was a massive turning point.”
For Kate, the ordeal was all too familiar. Only two years earlier her youngest son, Cooper was airlifted by the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter after he suffered a brain hemorrhage when he was just five days old.
“One day, shortly after we took him home from hospital I noticed his hand was ticking, and he had a small clenched fist I immediately knew something wasn’t right. Then he started to break out in beads of sweat on his forehead,” said Kate.
“We rushed him to Gympie Hospital and they took him through emergency straight away. By that time he had stopped breathing and his lungs had collapsed.
“They nearly lost him three times at the hospital before the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter arrived to fly him to Brisbane.
“Those drives when you’re chasing the helicopter to the hospital are the hardest part because your kids are gone. It’s out of your control and all you can do is drive.”
Cooper remained on life support for 10 days before they put him on a high dose of medication to stop his seizures.
“When Aneeka was airlifted I knew she was in the best care possible because of the experience we had with our son two years earlier,” said Kate.
Both Aneeka and Cooper have made full recoveries, and while they still have some health issues, Kate describes them as “perfect and amazing children.”
It was in the schoolyard, speaking with one of the children of another LifeFlight past patient, Tracey Devereaux, mother of seven who was airlifted last year by the rescue helicopter service, that Aneeka’s idea for “Flight for My Life” was born.
Aneeka and Kate have embarked on a year-long fundraising venture for LifeFlight, setting up donation tins around her hometown of Gympie and organising various fundraising events involving the community and her school to ensure that the rescue service is around to save more lives in the future. As Kate knows all too well, it’s a service Queenslanders are lucky to have.
“I hear the choppers all the time, they’re a familiar and regular sound of our day-to-day routine,” said Kate.
“Every time we hear them it’s a mixed blessing. We’re so thankful but our hearts can’t help but go out to the other family the crew is racing to save.”
Long-serving RACQ LifeFlight Rescue pilot, Brent Hall said it was a special reunion for all involved.
“I can’t remember seeing any other family where they have had two of their children airlifted, so it’s quite amazing to have them here today, to have both of them here today,” Brent said.
For Kate, thanking the crew has been something she has wanted to do for a long time.
“I think it takes a special type of person to deal with that sort of trauma, deal with it on a daily basis and at the end of it not know what’s happened. I’m just so grateful to these people, and to what they do. It was great to say thanks,” Kate said.