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Renovation Rescue

Liz and Steve were in the middle of renovations on their Colambatti property, a cattle farm north of Kempsey, in the weeks leading up to the devasting 2022 Northern Rivers floods.

With conditions worsening, they sent the builders home midweek knowing the property was likely to be cut off by flood waters in the days ahead.

That Sunday, they had 7 inches of rain and the torrential downpour saw water coming through the ceiling into their bedroom and near a meter box. They knew they had to remedy the situation with a tarp on the roof. Climbing on the roof in the persistent rain was too dangerous, so Steve waited for a break in the weather. Monday was Steve’s first opportunity to climb onto his roof and attempt to secure the house with a tarp.

It was on his climb to the roof that he slipped and fell, with Liz watching helplessly as Steve fell heavily onto the exposed timber beams of their unfinished deck. Liz was undergoing treatment for breast cancer and didn’t have the mobility to get down onto the deck to assist her husband who was lying motionless.

“He fell so hard, I thought he was dead,” Liz said. “In hindsight, if he’d landed with his head on the beam he would have certainly died but he fell taking the full force of impact with his body.”

Unable to assist Steve, Liz rallied help from a neighbour who came to her aid immediately. Neighbours shimmied an aluminium board under Steve to support him. He wanted to get up, despite being in a great deal of pain but Elizabeth and her neighbours demanded he lay still for fear of escalating his injuries.

SES teams in the area brought paramedics out to the property through difficult terrain and by this time Steve was pale and had gone into shock.

The tarp that was destined for his roof, was now Steve’s own protection from the elements, as the paramedics administered pain relief and assessed his injuries.

Arriving on scene, the Rescue Helicopter landed in the paddock nearby. “The Pilot was absolutely marvelous. I cannot praise them enough, they were absolutely wonderful,” Liz said. Once treated and stabilised by the Helicopter Critical Care Medical Team, Steve was flown, along with Liz, to John Hunter Hospital – soaking wet and muddy.

Liz was terrified of helicopters prior to the accident but was absolutely fine throughout the mission.

On assessment at John Hunter, it was determined that Steve had broken 11 ribs and fractured his lower back. He spent just over a week in hospital, with his recovery remarkable – he was back at work as a school bus driver just 6 weeks later.

Steve’s grandchildren have become big Rescue Helicopter fans.

“Four year old Vance is always on the lookout for the helicopter flying overhead and says ‘Grandpa’s helicopter is going to go over’,” Liz said.

“Even though the flooding saw us experience some of our hardest times, we have still tried to keep up our donations to charity and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter has always been number one. Now we have an even greater link to the Service and we know our donation will help someone else as it helped Steve,” Liz concluded.