Help from above

How RACQ LifeFlight Rescue is supporting Queenslanders during the pandemic.

A Sunshine Coast woman was left devastated after being forced to make the agonising decision to leave her coronavirus-stricken husband in Japan while she returned to Australia.

Paul, 62, and Coralie Williamson, 58, were among the 220 Australians onboard the Diamond Princess which was put into quarantine off Yokohama in February after more than 700 passengers, out of the 3700 on board, became infected with COVID-19.

Quarantine restrictions were lifted after they had spent 14 days confined to their cabin.

The RACQ members were set to return to the Sunshine Coast when Paul returned a positive COVID-19 test and Coralie was forced to make the difficult choice. 

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue

Photo: Coralie and Paul Williamson in Kagoshima, Japan. 

“We had to say goodbye and it was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” Coralie said. 

“I wanted to stay with him, but we were told I wouldn’t be allowed back home as Australia was in the midst of closing its borders.

“I had all these thoughts running through my mind, like ‘who goes home and leaves their husband?’ 

“My gut said to stay but we had no idea of where I would be placed in Japan while Paul was treated.” 

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Photo: Coralie and Paul receiving food onboard the Diamond Princess.

After they were separated, Paul was sent to a hospital more than nine hours away in Japan while Coralie was evacuated to a quarantine facility in Darwin.

“It was a really difficult time and was probably the hardest decision of my life to return to Australia,” Coralie said. 

“The toughest part was not knowing. My phone broke on the trip, so I had no way of contacting Paul to make sure he was OK but luckily my family was able to keep in touch.

“When I was on the plane home, I discovered I was one of 22 Australians who had to make the very difficult decision to leave loved ones behind.”

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Photo: Paul boarding a bus to Fujita University Hospital. 

Upon arriving in Darwin, Coralie was taken to a quarantine facility in Howard Springs, where she developed mild symptoms. 

“We arrived on a Thursday and on Saturday I had a tickle in my throat and was tested again,” Coralie said.

“I was now COVID-19 positive and was further isolated at Howard Springs. It was scary as my symptoms were low. I never had a temperature and my throat wasn’t even sore, just a little scratchy.” 

To ease the burden on the Darwin hospital system, Queensland Health contracted RACQ LifeFlight Rescue to transport infected Queenslanders home. 

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue

Photo: Coralie boarding an RACQ LifeFlight Rescue air ambulance jet. 

“I was put in an ambulance at Howard Springs and transported to the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue air ambulance jet which took me back to Queensland,” Coralie said. 

“I was really nervous getting on the plane and didn’t want to touch anything. 

“The RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Critical Care nurse was brilliant. 

“She was empathetic and supportive and didn’t make me feel bad about myself. 

“She made me feel safe and that I wasn’t hurting anyone else.”

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue

Photo: Coralie on the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue air ambulance jet. 

Upon arrival, Coralie was transported to the Sunshine Coast University Hospital and, in a strange turn of events, Paul, who had returned two negative COVID-19 tests and was flown back to Australia, was able to pick Coralie up after she recovered and was no longer contagious.

Coralie said as traumatic as the experience was, she and Paul counted themselves as “lucky”. 

“We’re very lucky to live in Australia and could be quarantined at Howard Springs or in hotels and have services like RACQ LifeFlight Rescue available to help,” she said. 

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Chief Medical Officer Dr Allan McKillop said RACQ LifeFlight Rescue’s fleet of air ambulance jets were made available to Queensland Health and, as of April, more than 26 Queenslanders who had, or were suspected of having, COVID-19 were transported for care. 

In a proactive step by the Queensland Government, three RACQ LifeFlight Rescue air ambulance jets are now on standby to airlift suspected or confirmed coronavirus and other patients, from Queensland regional centres, under an upgraded deal signed off by the State Government. 

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue

Photo: The inside of an RACQ LifeFlight Rescue air ambulance jet. 

“The RACQ LifeFlight Rescue air ambulance jets have been made exclusive to Queensland Health to help Queenslanders access high-level critical care units in Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast,” Dr McKillop said. 

“The jets are available to help Queenslanders 24/7 and each jet is staffed with two pilots, a critical care nurse and a critical care doctor and can transport two stretcher patients.”

Dr McKillop said they were grateful for the continued support and sponsorship from RACQ and its members, which enabled the fleet of air ambulance jets to expand to five. 

“Through our partnership, RACQ LifeFlight Rescue has set an international standard that’s envied by air ambulance organisations around the world,” he said. 

“It’s also provided incredible reassurance to Queenslanders who now know they have this incredibly fast and sophisticated air ambulance service 
able to assist them.” 

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RACQ Head of Community and Education David Contarini said it was incredible to see RACQ support a program which assisted sick and injured Queenslanders during the country’s time of need.

“We have been been supporting RACQ LifeFlight Rescue for more than 25 years and now we are proud to extend this to their fleet of air ambulance jets,” Mr Contarini said.

“RACQ is only the second automobile club worldwide which supports such a service. 

“These jets can be tasked anywhere in the world to bring the sick and injured back home, to Queensland.” 

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue