October 16, 2022
Xade Lillyman already has one reminder on his birth certificate of his unusual arrival into the world.
Soon, he'll have two - his place of birth, already listed as "in helicopter on (sic) route to Auckland City Hospital", and his middle name.
Xade, who turns 2 on Tuesday, was born inside an Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter as it cruised 365 metres above Motuihe Island on a nine-minute emergency flight from Waiheke Island to Auckland.
He's too young to understand the unique circumstances of his birth, but his parents Tui-kay Cole and former Warriors NRL player Jacob Lillyman want him to have a lifelong connection to the man who helped deliver him.
They've decided to change their son's middle name to Ross, in honour of flight critical care paramedic Ross Aitken, Cole told the Herald on Sunday this week.
"He's an amazing person, and when Xade is old enough to hear the story I'm sure he's going to want to meet Ross. It's going to be a long friendship."
The couple made the decision some time ago, but were in the process of moving to Australia and couldn't risk trying to get their son a new passport at a time processing had been slowed by the pandemic.
Now the situation had settled, they planned to formally change their son's middle name from Kōura to Ross, Cole said.
He was "really honoured and very humbled" by the couple's decision, Aitken said, after they told him about the planned name change this week.
While he'd delivered "a few" babies - he's unsure of the exact number - mid-air births like Xade's were the most unique.
But while it took place in an unusual location, the little boy's arrival was otherwise straightforward, the dad-of-two said.
"Apart from being at 1200 feet it was a normal delivery. Baby knew what he was doing, and mum knew what she was doing," Aitken said.
"But it was also one of those nice jobs where something happy has happened in the helicopter, when often really tragic stuff happens in the helicopter."
Cole, Lillyman and their two daughters, Arāni, 6, and 4-year-old Kaea were living on Waiheke Island when Cole went into labour with Xade.
After a slow start, a sudden escalation saw the rescue helicopter called to fly Cole to Auckland.
With her midwife and Lillyman on their way to the ferry, Cole was loaded into the rescue helicopter for the short flight across the water.
"I was still hoping [I'd make it to Auckland] but it wasn't to be. I was on my side and strapped in, so I literally had to grab Ross and say, 'it's coming'," Cole said.
"He jumped out of his seat, unbuckled me and it was two pushes and there Xade was."
Aitken placed the newborn in her arms as Cole struggled to process what'd just happened.
"It was surreal. There we were, looking out a helicopter window."
Lillyman, who played 188 games for the Warriors as well as pulling on the maroon jersey in State of Origin, is an ambassador for Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter, and the couple wanted to talk about Xade's unique arrival to support the service's work.
They'd since met with Aitken and his fellow crew on board that day, pre-hospital and retrieval medicine doctor Jocelyn Andruko, pilot Jason Haggit and co-pilot Vasya Makhinko, but wanted to do more, Cole said.
"Ross and his team, they go out every day for trauma and I think it's really important to embrace that this was a happy day," she said.
"It's [usually] all trauma, trauma, trauma... but I think this is one of those days they'll never forget, and neither will we."