One step out of place for Russell

Russell Nathan had no idea that one missed step would almost cost him his life. When the 43 year old truck driver from Auckland’s North Shore came to, he slowly pieced together just how close he had come to not surviving his accident at all.  

The day of Nathan’s accident was Wednesday 18th October 2017.

Nathan thought it happened in the afternoon. It was actually the morning.

“I don’t remember anything,” Nathan, who suffered a major head injury, says, “The nurses shook a bottle of water and explained that, while the outside of my head looked perfectly fine, it was the inside of my head that was all mixed up.”  

“It was the start of our work day and I was transferring some work gear, including a dashboard camera, from my truck to my ute. At least that is what others told me. I went to exit the truck stepping out backwards, but unfortunately I missed the bottom step.”

Nathan, who has been driving trucks since he was a teen, had fallen backwards out of large rigs before. When it had happened before however, he has always landed on his back.

“Unfortunately, this time, it was my head (from a height of around two metres) that connected with the ground first.”    

His employer actually caught the whole ordeal on a dashboard camera from the vehicle behind. They have assured him that it was an easy mistake that anyone could have made.

“My work mates watched it all unfold before them,” Nathan says, “They told me I tried to get up and it took four of them to hold me down and lie still while they called for help.”

At 7.30am that morning, Westpac 2 was tasked to get Nathan the urgent care he needed and to get him to the hospital fast.

“It was the best decision they (emergency services) could have made,” Nathan, says, “The accident happened in Wainui, North Auckland. At that time of the morning, the traffic was really bad and it would have been a long trip by road to hospital that day.”

Within 18 minutes of receiving the initial call from the St John air desk, Westpac 2 touched down at the site of the accident. The crew onboard that day were Chief Pilot Roger Hortop, Crewman/Co-Pilot Richard Selby, and, another, Russell - Intensive Care Paramedic Russell Clarke.

Clarke remembers the day well.

“We had just started our shift and finished checking our medical equipment when the call came in. From the information we had gained about Russell’s accident, it sounded bad. We took about 7-8 minutes to fly there and we landed about two metres from where Russell was lying. Straight away I could tell Russell had suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and possibly a fractured skull. He required urgent neurosurgery, time was of the essence and any delays could have affected his future quality of life. With the assistance of the ambulance crew on scene, we rapidly prepared him for transportation to hospital. Once airborne, I radioed the hospital to inform them that Russell was in a critical condition so that, once we landed, there would be no delays in the treatment he required."

“I didn’t realise I had been transported by a rescue helicopter until a month afterwards!” Nathan says.

It would take just 12 mins for the crew to get Nathan to Auckland Hospital, but months for him to heal. Three days prior to Christmas, Nathan made it home, but the road to recovery would still be a long one. Just recently, in April 2018, he was given the all clear to return to work.

Although Nathan has no recollection of the crew that day, he has met all three of his rescuers so he can put faces to names.

“I owe them my life,” he says, fighting back tears, “I’ve helped others when they’ve needed the rescue helicopter before, but I never thought I would need them one day.”

Since the accident, Nathan takes more time to appreciate and enjoy life for what it is. This includes spending time with his son Kees. It’s one step at a time for this grateful dad.