A Rural Lifeline for Young Family

Rural lifeline for young family

Isolated in rural Taranaki, Janelle and Lance Downs needed the help of the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter, not once but twice. Your support got us there in their time of need.

The Rescue Helicopter is a recognisable icon in the skies around Taranaki, but one couple know the helicopter service better than others.

Last year, in the space of two months, the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter came to the aid of Janelle and Lance Downs, sheep and beef farmers on a 2,000-acre farm in rural East Taranaki. “The first time was for me,” says Janelle. “The second time was for Lance.”

It was calving season for Janelle and Lance, when one of their quieter cows got into difficulty. “Lance took her through into the woolshed yard but as I went to latch the gate she turned around and jumped it. The gate came back and hit me just above the eye, throwing me back 4.5m. I was knocked unconscious for about 10 minutes and came to, covered in mud.”

Out of cell phone reception and with his wife out cold with a severe head injury, Lance raced back to the house to call 111, and the ambulance and the Rescue Helicopter were deployed. “I was taken to Taranaki Base Hospital with a major gash above my eye that required both internal and external stitches,” says Janelle. “I was just thankful I didn’t have our children with me or the outcome could have been a very different story.”

A second mission

Back home on the farm, life continued for Janelle and Lance during one of the busiest times of year, until the afternoon of Sunday 12 November. “It was the last cow to calve and Lance was assisting her. As he went to anchor the rope, the cow pulled forward catching the rope around his thumb and amputating it, all in one brief motion,” recalls Janelle. Leaving their two young children – Ellie 2.5 years and Tim 6 months – in the care of Lance’s slightly panicked father, Kevin, Janelle drove Lance the one-hour drive to New Plymouth Base hospital’s A&E. “When we got to A&E, the severity of Lance’s injuries required specialist care. Next thing we knew, St John paramedic, Roger Blume was picking us up in his car to take us to the hangar and 45 minutes later we were at Waikato Hospital.” Dressed in nothing but her mud-splattered farm clothes, Janelle wasn’t prepared for the eight nights Lance ended up spending in Waikato Hospital. “He was in surgery for six-to-seven hours, but they couldn’t save his thumb. Instead, they had to attach his thumb to his stomach and a graft of skin from his stomach over his thumb. He stayed with his thumb sewn to his stomach for three weeks before it was later removed and the graft was secured over the end of his thumb.”

A worthwhile service

Six months on, Janelle still suffers from symptoms associated with her concussion, including susceptibility to light, poor memory and motion sickness. Lance’s ‘stumpy thumb’ doesn’t appreciate the frosty mornings but her and Lance can now chuckle at the irony of not only needing the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter twice in two months, but being in the care of exactly the same crew each time.

“When Roger came into A&E to take us to Waikato Hospital, he did a double take,” says Janelle. “But we are incredibly grateful for the care of the crew and, in particular, the importance that Roger placed on Lance’s situation. “Roger dropped everything, including his grocery shopping. When he came to our aid he could see time was of the essence so he got us in the air straight away. Both Roger and Sarah [fellow crewman] were fantastic. The service they offer is worth its weight in gold.”