The race to save Gracie

It was an early start for Gracie and her family from Kennedy Bay on Friday 26th June 2015.

In the small hours of the morning, Gracie was running a fever and her breathing was raspy and laboured.

“Sickness is frightening when you don’t know what you’re dealing with,” Mum Conor says, “We contacted an afterhours clinic and found out she had croup (a viral illness in young children which causes narrowing of the upper airways).”

As the night wore on, Gracie’s condition took a turn for the worse. “Gracie just wasn’t coping with the virus and high temperatures,” Conor recalls, “She had a febrile convulsion (a seizure caused by the body overheating). Having seen this once before, we knew what to do. We put her in a cold shower to cool her down.”

Keeping a watchful eye over their daughter, the family arranged an early visit to their GP - a good half hour away.

“That day there was a tangi on that I hoped to attend. I held off to see our GP first but the nurse asked if we could come back in 20 minutes. Gracie still wasn’t very well but, to look at her, we thought she was on the mend. I popped across to pay my respects but, as soon as I opened the car door she had a seizure again. This one was very intense. Gracie was foaming at the mouth and I just starting yelling for help.”

As luck would have it, the tangi was held at the local fire station. “As I carried her in my arms, the town’s emergency and medical people came running.” Gracie’s body trembled as the St John Ambulance crew assessed her. At times she stopped breathing. “Doctors said her seizure lasted a full eight minutes. The Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew were tasked to meet us at the town’s airstrip. The thing I appreciated most was knowing they were coming. I felt a weight lift from my shoulders, knowing we were in the right hands and would get to hospital in time.”

In just 25 minutes the Westpac Rescue Helicopter arrived from its Auckland City base. HEMS Medical Director Chris Denny was on duty that day. “I could see Gracie was scared and finding it difficult to breathe,” Chris recalls, “but she was alert, having received such excellent care from the local GP as well as the team from St John Ambulance. Because we’re in Coromandel often, we know most of these people on a first name basis. Having dealt with illness and injury together, we could continue working at a very good pace.”

Dad Gerry, in his bee suit (work clothes), arrived just in time to kiss Mum and daughter goodbye before they took off. As a Dad himself, Chris knows how important it was to be there for the family too. “This is a very remote setting and Gracie’s family already had a lot to deal with that day,” he says, “Intensive Care Flight Paramedic Marcel Driessen and I did our best to let them know how Gracie was doing and to reassure them that everything was under control.”

In just 37 minutes, Gracie arrived at Waikato Hospital in a much improved state and was discharged the following morning. Fighting off tears, Conor struggles to convey what it meant having the community and the Auckland & Coromandel Westpac Rescue Helicopter there for Gracie when she needed them the most.

That’s when young Billy speaks for his Mum. “They saved my little sister’s life!” he says.