The Air Ambulance retrieves New Zealand’s most critically ill and injured children, bringing them to the country’s only dedicated Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Starship in Auckland. One of the people who sees the positive effects of this service every day, is flight retrieval nurse Kirstie Johnson.
Kirstie has been working as a PICU Nurse for nine years and has been part of the flight retrieval team for the last eighteen months. In that time she estimates she has done around 30 retrievals. She says people don’t really think about the Air Ambulance until the day they need it.
“When your child needs help they need it fast, that’s why the Air Ambulance is so important. Starship provides specialised paediatric services that aren’t available anywhere else in the country. To be able to get kids to Auckland is often a matter of life and death.”
The Boyce family knows just how crucial the service is, 14-year-old Amelia was hit by a car while using a pedestrian crossing last year, just six days before Christmas. She suffered numerous injuries including three skull fractures, concussion, and a broken hip. The seriousness of her injuries meant she needed the Air Ambulance to transport her to Starship, in Auckland. Her parents Adria and Dean say they’re incredibly grateful to the team.
“Starship and the Air Ambulance is an amazing life support which the whole of New Zealand relies on. The dedicated and experienced staff helped us through a very difficult time.”
This year alone the Air Ambulance has made 145 retrieval flights. Kirstie says she still remembers her first flight, when she was sent to Palmerston North hospital to retrieve a six year old girl who needed the highly specialised care that PICU provides.
“We transferred the wee girl and her mother to PICU and a few days later she was becoming more stable. However, every time her mother saw me on the ward she would burst into tears, because I reminded her of that awful time when her child needed our help. As the girl recovered, so did her mum and she was just so thankful to us. It made me realise just how valuable Starship is for Kiwi kids and their families.”
Supporting family and whānau during the retrieval is a key part of the team’s role. While their primary focus is the patient, Kirstie says they are talking to the family every step of the way.
“When you turn up at the hospital and meet the family it’s one of the most scary and stressful times of their life. We come in with a lot of equipment, our bags are huge. The situation is often critical and parents take one look at us and they get so overwhelmed. It’s such a highly emotional time for them. From the time we arrive at the regional hospital we are talking to the family all the time, talking them through the flight and the transfer and making sure they always know what is happening and what is going on. It’s hard to talk to them on the plane with the noise and the space restrictions, so we try to explain as much as we can to them before we take off. It’s important that they trust us.”
The support the Air Ambulance team provides to the family is something Havelock North mum Tammi is familiar with. Her son Jordan was born prematurely at just 27 weeks. In his two short years he has already had two return trips to Starship via the Air Ambulance.
Jordan’s first trip came at just six months old when his lung collapsed, and his heart stopped. Tammi says she is so grateful to the Starship team who were there to help her baby.
“The hardest thing was watching him lie there and not be able to help him. But the team kept me on point – he was in the best care, with the best help, and in the best place. They’re like heroes, like the heroes of New Zealand, I reckon. They kept my baby alive.”
Jordan was able to recover in Starship before returning home. But less than 18 months later, just before his second birthday, a similar event saw him back on the Air Ambulance to receive more specialist care at Starship.
For children like Jordan and Amelia the Air Ambulance is a vital service. Without it, outcomes for both families could have been quite different. Kirstie says being able to see the difference the Air Ambulance makes is what keeps her going even during the longest and toughest shifts.
“I would like to think that if my child needed medical help, they would have the opportunity to be taken to Starship and to get that specialist support. The reason I love my job is because I know the Starship Air Ambulance makes such a difference to people’s lives. It allows children to receive the best possible care. That gives them the best chance to lead long happy lives and there really isn’t anything more important than that.”
We need your help to keep Starship Flying.
Every year the Starship Foundation relies on the support of generous donors to raise around $1.5 million dollars to keep the Air Ambulance flying. You can help by donating at keepstarshipflying.org.nz.
Alternatively you can gift corporate clients and staff Air Smiles. By donating or purchasing Air Smiles you’re helping critically ill and injured children from around New Zealand get the highly specialised care they need at Starship. Give the gift of Air Smiles this Christmas and help ensure the Starship National Air Ambulance is always at the ready 24/7 for children in need