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According to his mother Carolyn, Tristan Sik was your average, small-town 13-year-old who loved motorbike riding, camping, fishing and anything outdoors, until he was involved in a horrific road accident that changed his life forever.
On the morning of July 15, 2017, Tristan was at a friends house when he sent his Mum a text saying he was riding his push bike home.
He never made it home.
On the corner of his street in Rainbow Beach, Tristan was struck by a 4WD, travelling at an estimated 60 kilometres per hour.
“It was a freak accident,” Carolyn said. “He actually gave way to a car and caravan as he was turning into our street, but there was a car behind the caravan in his blind spot, and he was hit by that car,” she trails off.
At the time, Carolyn was waiting outside the family home to take Tristan and his brother and sisters out for a breakfast treat.
“The next thing I knew, one of our apprentices pulled into the driveway and just yelled, ‘Go! Go to the corner!’”.
When Carolyn arrived at the corner, she saw first responders frantically trying to stabilize her ‘Trist’.
What an incredibly confronting scene.
“In my early years, I’d completed five years of St John’s Ambulance so as soon as the paramedic told me he had a GCS of 3, I knew exactly what that meant. I could see his labored breathing; I could see that he had open fractures to his leg. Straight away, I knew it was potentially fatal,” Carolyn said.
A local paramedic was first on-scene and kept Tristan alive until the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter landed minutes later in a clearing.
“There were tears in my eyes seeing the chopper come. It was so emotional,” she said.
Carolyn was able to ride with her critically injured son in the helicopter while Tristan’s stepfather, Dave Elder, made the 240km drive to Brisbane not knowing Tristan’s fate.
“It’s just so scary seeing your child so helpless,” Carolyn said.
“I couldn’t even look at him. I didn’t want to get in the way of what the medical staff were doing so I just looked out the window,” she said.
“I will never forget that helicopter ride, begging God not to take my son whilst he was being defibrillated in front of me.”
Carolyn held onto the hope that, because he was wearing a helmet, he just might make it.
“Tristan was the worst one for not doing what he was supposed to be doing. At the time of the accident, he was actually wearing his helmet for once and not hanging it on his handlebar,” she said.
She hoped his helmet, and the quick response of an airmedical flight, would be enough to save him.
Tristan suffered a broken leg, broken hip, broken collarbone and six fractures to the skull that caused a severe brain injury.
I’m not exaggerating at all when I say it was touch-and-go as to whether he would survive.
“Two weeks in, we were advised to turn off Trist’s life support,” Carolyn said.
“Every day for two weeks, medical professionals would give us another reason why we should let him go and each time we refused.
“They gave us so many reasons - he would have no cognition, he would need 24/7 hospice care, he would not be able to maintain his airway, cough or swallow – but I just knew in my heart that it wasn’t his fate.
“I was in the shower that night crying, sitting in the corner bawling my eyes out and I just heard the words, ‘Give him more time’. So every step of the way that’s what I’ve done.”
The doctors performed a procedure to see if he could maintain his airway on his own, as he could not sustain a ventilator tube for much longer.
“The doctor pulled the tubes out and he breathed unassisted. We couldn’t believe it,” Carolyn said.
“This was by far the happiest day of my life, no longer did I have to make the decision if my child should live or die,” she said.
Tristan was moved to rehabilitation where he made small but significant gains.
“It was like his whole body was sleeping and slowly each muscle would wake up,” Carolyn said.
His recovery was very long and difficult, but Tristan took every challenge on like an absolute champion, shocking doctors and therapists along the way.
It was five long months before Tristan was able to go home.
“Six months after the accident, it was like a switch was turned on. Trist started responding. He slowly raised his arms, closed his eyes on command and poked his tongue out!”
“By February - my 40th birthday - Trist repeated, “I love you.” This was the first time he had spoken since the accident seven months earlier.”
Carolyn says the journey ahead will be long but is thankful for Tristan’s second chance.
“Definitely, without a doubt RACQ LifeFlight Rescue saved his life. He wouldn’t be here if he didn’t get to hospital when we did, he would not have survived.”
LifeFlight Foundation Director