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LifeFlight Patient Conquers Heart Attack and Fear of Flying All in One Day

For Toowoomba local Christine Dowton, suffering a serious heart attack at her home was just the beginning of a life-changing day when she was confronted with facing her lifelong fear of flying.

Today, Christine was reunited with the paramedic who saved her life, Anthony Clark at the Toowoomba RACQ LifeFlight Rescue base.

For as long as Christine can remember, a fear of flying has stopped her from going on a dream trip to Canada with her supportive husband, Bill.

Living only a kilometre from the LifeFlight base, the closest Christine gets to any form of flying is watching the LifeFlight choppers taking off from the comfort of her backyard.

“I can see the runway from home so we always see the LifeFlight choppers flying overhead but the thought of being on one of them absolutely terrified me,” said Christine.

Christine never imagined after watching the LifeFlight choppers from afar for so long, they’d be the first responders when she suffered a life threatening heart attack at her house.

She recalls her symptoms as ‘wacko’ because she didn’t feel any chest pain, instead she felt a throbbing in her back and was violently ill. It was only when her arms began to go numb that she urged Bill to call an ambulance.

LifeFlight Paramedic Anthony Clark was on duty when they received the call. Once realising Christine’s location was only down the road, LifeFlight drove to her house as the first responders.  

Queensland Ambulance Services (QAS) arrived and Christine could not be stabilised, so the decision was made to drive to Toowoomba Base Hospital rather than fly.

Anthony travelled by road with her in the ambulance where paramedics provided an anti-clotting agent to Christine.

“I remember Christine’s case vividly,” said Anthony.

“The clot needed to be cleared. If the clot wasn’t dissolved of quickly then due to the lack of blood and oxygen going to Christine’s heart muscle, we were either going to lose her or she would have severe muscle damage which can compromise a person’s quality of life,” said Anthony.  

Upon arrival at Toowoomba Base Hospital, Anthony stayed with Christine as she was admitted into hospital and Doctors quickly agreed the best option was for her was to receive specialist cardiac care at the Princess Alexandra (PA) Hospital in Brisbane and Retrieval Services Queensland (RSQ) tasked the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Helicopter for transfer.

For Christine, the thought of a 30-minute flight to Brisbane was worse than risking the wait and driving.

“I didn’t think anything could be worse at that point having just had a heart attack and then I was taken to the roof and there was a chopper waiting for me. I flat-out refused to go on the chopper,” said Christine. 

Anthony was surprised to meet resistance from the patient.

“When she came to the roof you could see the fear on her face and it was obvious that she was afraid of flying,” Anthony said.

“Most patients are thrilled to see the chopper because they know they’re safe, so when she asked if she could just drive to Brisbane despite having suffered a serious heart attack I knew I had a very frightened flyer on my hands.”

“I told Christine if she drove then she might not make it. I also told her I have a wife and kids who I need to go home to everyday so I wouldn’t be on a helicopter if it wasn’t safe.”

“I just focused on reassuring her that she was ok and the chopper was safe,” said Anthony.

After some convincing from Anthony, Christine was eventually talked into getting onto the chopper.

“Anthony made sure I knew exactly what was happening the whole time.  He was pressing buttons and explaining the aircraft operations so I was more comfortable.

“He went above and beyond to make sure I was ok which I really appreciated,” said Christine.

Towards the end of the flight when Christine was feeling more comfortable was when she started to enjoy the flight; conquering a fear she had had her whole life.

“Not only did LifeFlight save my life but they also helped me overcome my fear of flying,” said Christine.

When they landed at the PA Hospital, Christine went straight through to the Cardiac Ward and Cath Lab where she had Cardiac Stents inserted into the blocked artery to reduce the chance of another heart attack.

For Paramedic Anthony Clark it was an unusual task being the first responder on the scene and then staying with Christine right through to admission to PA Hospital in Brisbane.

“I have a fond memory of that job, one of the best responses through pre-hospital and aeromedical care that I have been involved in,” said Anthony.

Christine and her husband are part of panel vanning group, Majestic Vanners Australia, and hold their annual van-in every year in Hervey Bay. This year, the LifeFlight Foundation was their charity of choice.

Christine presented Amy Luhrs, LifeFlight’s South-West Community Engagement Officer with a cheque for $2,200 as a show of thanks to the rescue helicopter service which saved her life.

With a strong recovery and newfound enjoyment of the sky, Christine believed her and her husband could finally make that dream trip to Canada a reality.

It was the reality that the trip could go forward when Christine’s husband, Bill revealed he also had a fear of flying, and had been humouring her all these years saying they’d go one day thinking that it would never happen and he wouldn’t have to face his own fear.

“I owe my life and overcoming my fear of flying to LifeFlight and I can’t thank them enough, Anthony is my guardian angel,” said Christine.

2016-17 was a record year for LifeFlight for lifesaving missions with its aeromedical crews, community helicopters and Air Ambulance jets performing a record 5,342 missions throughout Queensland and around the world.

LifeFlight is a community-based charity funded and supported by the LifeFlight Foundation

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