Guardian Angels

To celebrate RACQ LifeFlight Rescue's 25th anniversary, RACQ Living looks at one of their most miraculous rescues.

"Your son has been in an accident.”

They’re the words no parent wants to hear, but, for Carolyn Elder, those words became a haunting reality in July 2017.

Carolyn was at home when she first heard that her 14-year-old son Tristan, had been struck by a four-wheel-drive travelling 60km/h while riding his bike home from a sleepover at a friend’s house in Rainbow Beach, east of Gympie.

“Nothing prepares you for seeing your son like that,” Carolyn said.

“Years ago, I worked at St John Ambulance, so when I saw Tristan I knew exactly how serious it was with his laboured breathing and the injuries he sustained.”  

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue flew Tristan and Carolyn to Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital (now Queensland Children’s Hospital), while his stepfather Dave and family made the arduous 240km drive to Brisbane.

“I’m not the type of person that panics, but all I could do was pray the whole chopper ride,” Carolyn said.  

After two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit, Tristan’s outlook was bleak, with doctors advising Carolyn to switch off his life support believing there was no hope of recovery.

“In their medical opinion that was the best thing, but I just couldn’t do it,” Carolyn said.

“The first night that I was asked to turn off his life support, I was in the bottom of the shower crying and I heard the words give him more time.”

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue reunion

Carolyn declined the requests, opting to give Tristan more time and soon, to the surprise of doctors, he started to show signs of recovery.

“For the first six months, we had very little recovery and he was in a minimal conscious state,” she said.

“We were just celebrating him being able to roll over from his back to one side and then all of the sudden it was like a switch flicked and it started snowballing.

“Tristan went from barely rolling over to stand transfers, to walking assisted and from no speech at all to repeating words and three months later having full conversations with slurred speech.  

LifeFlight reunion

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Air Crewman Scott Reeman said he was amazed at the progress Tristan had made since helping to transport him from the scene of the accident.

“The day will stick in my memory forever, as I have young kids myself,” he said.  

“But it also stands out as it was one of those times where we had a significant impact on a young man’s life and it makes you feel great, as not all calls turn out that way.”

Scott said RACQ members should feel proud knowing their memberships went towards keeping rescue helicopters in the sky and saving lives such as Tristan’s.

“I am a member of RACQ myself and it has always been regarded as one those organisations that you get more out of than you put in, and for them to support rescue helicopters is amazing,” he said.