Portia's custard day

It was a freak accident.

No one could have predicted what would happen to Portia Murray during the October school holidays or that she was just one tiny millimetre away from, the very real possibility of losing her life, but Portia’s three year old brother Ryder summed up just how it happened best.

“Portia fell off her bike, it (most of it) went in the rubbish, and she went to hospital… in a heli-chopper,” he says.

Meeting young Portia just a few weeks on from her accident, it’s hard to believe that this level-headed, happy seven year old could be fazed by much. As her parents Angelic and Hamish came to understand the enormity of what had happened, it’s not difficult to see why they admire their brave girl and just how different that Monday could have gone.

On 7th October 2019, Portia didn’t have a care in the world. She was enjoying hanging out with Ryder and her cousins in a tree not far from the family’s bach in Omaha. Her aunty and grandmother were close by.

The day took a turn for the worst however, when a plan was concocted to race home - Portia on her bike and her older cousin, on foot. What happened next was not altogether clear. Portia made a bee-line for the grass and had to brake at some point. This small turn on an incline sent her pushbike into a slide with the handlebars hitting the concrete ground hard.

This turning while braking would unfortunately turn Portia’s wonderful day to custard.

“Her bicycle essentially jack knifed,” says Hamish who, as a chippy, was building a fence at the time, “Unfortunately Portia ended up on top of her bike.”

Hamish came running when he heard the screams of Portia. His sister-in-law, Bianka, was already calling for the ambulance. Fortunately there were a lot of people on the footpath that day including a local doctor named Kathy. The family were amazed at how quickly their community rallied around.

But this was no ordinary accident.

“The handle bar and brake had impaled Portia’s lower groin region,” Hamish says sadly.

“Kathy yelled no one touch it and instructed people to grab blankets. She would hold Portia’s head the whole time. Portia drifted off to sleep a couple of times in her lap. Portia's grandmother was also by her side the whole time,” Angelic says.

In next to no time, the family estimated as many as 10 different emergency services arrived. The first on scene, apart from the doctor, were the Matakana Volunteer Fire Brigade.

Hamish worried for his wife. “Angelic was a bit of a wreck to be honest,” Hamish said, “She actually had an asthma attack and had to go back to the house and get her puffer.”

Hamish, on the other hand, switched to ‘fix it’ mode and ran to grab his tool box.

“I wanted to get the bike off her. I didn’t want to take it out,” he says, “the guys had their jaws of life but it wasn’t up to the task.”

While crew held the bike and bandages tight, Hamish started cutting. The bike was already off her by the time the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived.

“I don’t think anyone realised you were the dad when you were doing it,” Angelic laughs.

“That’s right. They asked me if I was,” Hamish says, “that’s when I went pale. Up until then I was just getting the job done and not thinking about the gravity of the situation.”

“I ran to Portia thinking she would just have a grazed knee. I’ll pick her up and take her home, but the firemen’s words hit me hard. It was then that I thought, ‘Whoah’ – this is a bit more serious than I thought!”

The family thought Portia was incredible. She cried out a little bit, and she definitely didn’t want to see her injury, but their daughter mostly remained calm.

“When Westpac Rescue’s Intensive Care Paramedic Josh Sanders and Dr. Scott McGilvray arrived, they could see the growing crowd had everything under control.

Josh, who has dealt with many impalements before, said his first impression of Portia was, “She was chilled.”

Dr. Scott recalls, “The only time she actually yelled was when we put the IV line in!”

Amazingly, the helicopter could land on a nearby reserve just 20 metres away from Portia.

“It was a bad injury but it wasn’t time critical, so we used our time making sure she was as comfortable as possible,” Scott says.

Distraction was another tool in the team’s belt.

“We asked Portia what Ryder would think about going in the helicopter.”

Josh says that there’s a good reason for distracting a patient and their loved ones.

“In these cases, over half our job is caring for those around them,” he says, “Children are pretty resilient, pretty tough. They read your body language and if you’re chilled, they chill. Even if you treat a patient or get them out of harm’s way, they will be still reading the body language of those around them. It’s important everyone remains calm.”

Angelic said it was great seeing the crew in action and Josh giving Portia the odd thumbs up.

“I definitely wasn’t the calm one, but their care and kindness reassured me that, ‘they’ve got this’.”

Just 20 minutes from take-off, Westpac 1 landed at Starship Hospital and Portia underwent emergency surgery for an hour to remove the handlebar and brake.

“When the surgeon came out, he told us that we should buy a lottery ticket because she was a very lucky girl,” Hamish recalls, “He said that he hadn’t seen any impalements like Portia’s before and that the handle bar was within just 1mm of a major artery.”

Scott kept a close eye on Portia’s circulation during the trip, but he suspected it might have been close. Portia’s recovery took a while and her rehabilitation continues, but she is back to her smiling self.

The Murrays are very grateful for all the kindness shown that day.