Sunday 20th October 2019 was the day eight-year-old Tyla Christie decided to go for gold.
“Tyla had lapped a few of his friends,” recalls dad Ryan, “His sights were set firmly on his buddy Connor ahead.”
It was the last of the Winter Series motocross event and the second to last lap.
“He was really gunning it!”
Little did Tyla’s family know how close he would come to losing his life.
The eight year old’s fight began on the dusty sand track in Mercer, but it didn’t end there. He’d be up against the clock all day.
Ryan, wife Cara and daughter Kendall, shouted from the side-lines, but their joy was short-lived.
Tyla came out of a lap and briefly left the race line to try and catch his mate.
“Right into the rough stuff,” Ryan says.
Tyla’s bike skidded out from underneath him.
“He landed across the track and the child behind ran straight over Tyla,” Cara says.
Ryan jumped onto the track to shield his fallen son.
“Tyla said he couldn’t breathe and he thought there was something wrong with his lung,” Ryan recalls, “I asked, ‘Can you move your arms? Can you move your legs? Can you get up by yourself?’ Tyla said he could do all three.”
Another father managed to get Tyla’s bike started. Ryan encouraged his son, “You’ve got a lap and a half to go. Go finish the race.”
Cara watched on unimpressed.
“Tyla got on his bloody bike and carried on!” she says.
Cara’s instincts weren’t wrong.
“I could see Tyla wasn’t attempting any of the jumps. I ran over to where he would exit the track.”
Cara took her son’s helmet off. Already taken back by his squeaky voice, Cara wasn’t prepared for her son’s words, “Mum. I’m so scared. I don’t think I’m going to survive!’”
Those words would send those he knew and loved running.
The race to save Tyla had begun.
The ‘chain of survival’ started with the Christie’s family friend, Fabian, telling the organisers to get the medics. Within minutes, Tyla was lying in the back of the track medic’s van.
Ryan looked on stoically but fearful for his son’s life. He could see Tyla’s neck was swelling as his boy watched him with wide eyes.
“I was trying to get the medic’s attention without panicking Tyla. I didn’t know what to say and I knew my son was trying to read my face.”
In a few minutes, more ambulance crew arrived. Among the team was Intensive Care Paramedic (ICP) Kateshe Clark, wife of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust’s ICP Russell “Rusty” Clark.
Cara said Kateshe’s rescue efforts really stood out.
Kateshe would commence an invasive thoracostomy procedure where a thin plastic tube is inserted between the chest wall and lungs to release trapped air. So swollen was Tyla, Kateshe said it was the first time she could actually hear the air coming out.
In a few more minutes, the team from Westpac Rescue Auckland arrived.
"As Kateshe worked with Westpac’s Intensive Care Paramedic Marcel Driessen and Pre-Hospital Retrieval Medicine Doctor Stephanie Mackie, she stepped out of the ambulance and was very honest with us,” Cara says, “She said, ‘I’m not going to sugar-coat this. Tyla is critically ill and has life-threatening injuries. We’re doing the best we can to get him to hospital.”
Marcel says Rusty had already given Westpac duty crew the heads up that Kateshe was attending. Within four minutes of tasking, Pilot Jason Haggitt and Co-Pilot Aaron Knight had Westpac One (HLH) airborne.
Dr Stephanie said the crew received good information on the way through touch-screen tablets with live updates from the tasking air desk.
“We knew Tyla’s age, was really ill, and his oxygen levels were starting to fall. We knew he had surgical emphysema which occurs when air is trapped under the skin,” Stephanie says, “There’s only so much you can do on the way, but we could estimate his weight and the amount of drugs to administer and what equipment was needed to help save Tyla’s life.”
Marcel remembers seeing the downward wash of the rotors scattering the dust off the race track nearby.
“We could see straight away Tyla was in a bad way and Kateshe provided a really good handover. Stephanie helped Kateshe and I went back to Westpac One to set up the equipment aboard our AW-169 helicopter to anesthetise Tyla so we could put a breathing tube in.”
Marcel says, “There were a lot of good people doing a lot of good stuff that day.”
Ryan said that things ‘got real’ for him when he saw the women’s hands inside his son’s body.
“Often, only one lung collapses," Dr Stephanie explains, "In Tyla’s case, it was two. The air gets trapped and the lung collapses and you put a hole in it and the lung reinflates. The patient can breathe again so it’s a really good result for a fairly invasive procedure.”
Tyla also received a rapid sequence intubation (RSI), to assist his breathing while he was under, as Westpac One flew him to Starship Hospital. Tyla would be on a ventilator for five days. After spending a few nights in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), he spent 11 more in a ward.
Amazingly, Tyla had no broken bones but it was a tear in the back of his windpipe that did all the damage to his lungs. Tyla was told he would have to give motocross up. For his ninth birthday, Tyla wished for a letter to say he could ride again but remains a happy child all the same.
“In support of Tyla, we’ve all taken up fishing instead,” Ryan says.
Cara is thankful for all involved with saving her son’s life.
“You kept our family whole. We are forever grateful for that.”