Dr Irfaan Jetha of Bangalow gets his gear ready at the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Base in Lismore.
Dr Irfaan Jetha of Bangalow gets his gear ready at the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Base in Lismore. Marc Stapelberg

Flights a matter of life or death

IT WAS the first major mission Dr Irfaan Jetha had been sent to since he joined the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter team.

A 24-year-old man had lost control of his car in Bilambil and crashed into a fence.

What sounded like a routine motor vehicle accident became something much more horrific when Dr Jetha learned the driver had been impaled by a metal fence post.

"The pole had gone through the car door, through his leg and out the other side," Dr Jetha remembered.

"First I was told they needed a doctor for a roadside amputation. I had done a few amputations in the theatre...but never for somebody whose life was on the line on the roadside.

"I remembered when I was in Sydney, they had a bone saw and traumatic amputation tools (in the helicopter) but here we don't have anything like that.

"But we went anyway to check it out.

"The firefighters had cut off one side of the pole but they had not been able to cut off the other side. They needed a stronger drug to calm him down."

The patient then suffered a very rare side effect to a pain killer Dr Jetha gave him - his throat began to spasm and his breathing was restricted.

When the patient was finally freed from the wreckage - with the pole through his leg and on an incubator - he began to "bleed out" from his injuries, which included a serious leg injury and a severed testicle.

"What he needed was blood, which we didn't have, and an operation to stop the bleeding. The trauma team met us (on the helipad at the Royal Brisbane Hospital) and it was all okay," he said.

This action-packed scenario is all in a day's work for Dr Jetha, who is the helicopter's full-time doctor.

Since Christmas, the helicopter team has executed more than 30 rescue missions. A son of a United Nations employee, Dr Jetha was born in West Africa, raised in America, studied in Ireland, worked in France and finally settled in Australia in 2007.

"Besides the fact how cool it is to be in the chopper on a beautiful day and check out all the surf spots and fly over the nice countryside...it's a very challenging environment and you do what you can but I find it very satisfying."

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