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Cruise ship pick-me-up in Air Ambulance transplant mission

February 6, 2017 | in Operations

Most people stepping on board a cruise ship would naturally assume they’d arrive at the destination of the ocean liner.

But for Kathie, 40, her recent holiday took an unexpected but very welcome turn when Air Ambulance was called in to pluck her off the ship and fly her to a hospital in time to receive an urgent kidney transplant.

The NSW resident, who had waited seven years for a suitable kidney to be available, was somewhere in the Bass Strait enjoying day one of a Tasmania-bound cruise when she received a message on Facebook from her sister which changed her life.

Thankful that she had purchased on-board phone credit to receive the message, she was overwhelmed as she read the message which informed her that a kidney had become available – but she needed to act fast.

She rushed to the medical centre where she had planned to maintain her usual 18 hours of dialysis each week. Discussions with medical staff soon involved the captain and coast guard and immediate arrangements were made to help Air Ambulance perform a special winch to help make the transplant a reality.

‘Once we found out from the doctor that it was going ahead, he explained how it was going to happen…It was essentially getting winched off the ship, flown to land and then flown in a plane to Sydney,’ Kathie recalled.

‘It was so awesome. I was really excited about it, I wasn’t scared. It was exciting to know that I was getting a kidney and to see all the work behind it to make this happen for me.

‘I was just waiting, you know… I’ve been waiting for seven years. I couldn’t believe that the time had actually come.’

Arriving at the ship and hovering over the top deck, the Air Ambulance helicopter dropped MICA flight paramedic Toby St Clair down on to the ship. He met Kathie and prepared her for the winch into the helicopter and on to her life-changing journey.

‘We were quite excited to be involved. The crew was very happy to be involved and it was a huge effort from the Air Ambulance coordination team,’ Toby said.

‘We hoped that we could reach her in a viable timeframe and we know that the cruise ship even turned around towards us to help us get to Kathie as quickly as possible.

‘We didn’t have a deadline for her transit but we needed to winch her off the ship, fly her to

Bairnsdale where she had another flight leg through to Sydney before making it to hospital by road.

‘It was exciting that it was a very successful job and ended up having a wonderful outcome. The crew felt very privileged to be involved.’

Kathie arrived at the NSW hospital and underwent a successful transplant within hours.

While she is recovering well from the transplant, she admits she looks back on the events which took place to get her a new kidney as ‘gobsmacking’.

‘It has completely changed my life because I can now live a normal life,’ Kathie said.

‘The whole thing was just amazing. Toby (MICA flight paramedic) was lovely and very calm. I felt like I was on a TV episode of a special operation.

‘I’d like to thank everyone who helped make my kidney transplant possible because really so many people were involved in making it happen and I also hope that it raises awareness on how important organ donation is.’