Two days after her 21st birthday, Julie Flintoff and her mum Kay were walking their horses Bella and Windy across their Kerikeri farm. Their farrier, Simon, was waiting for them in the stable near the house.
Julie and Bella had been together for two years, competing successfully in many dressage events. What happened next was uncharacteristic of the horse and a terribly unfortunate punishment for her rider.
“Bella didn’t seem herself that day, but nothing suggested that we should be overly concerned,” says Kay.
Walking into the yard, Bella bucked up and kicked out, hitting Julie square on the side of the head and knocking her to the ground. Fearing the worst Kay let go of the other horse and rushed to her daughter’s side, screaming for Simon to phone the ambulance and rescue helicopter.
“He was obviously in shock himself and it took a minute for him to remember that he had to dial 111, not 999. He’s English,” says Kay.
“He ran inside and came out a few minutes later, saying that they were on their way.
Kay cradled her daughter carefully. She was covered in blood and her eye socket, cheek bone, nose, jaw and the side of her face had suffered significant fractures. St Johns Ambulance and the local fire brigade arrived on the scene and the Northland Electricity Rescue Helicopter arrived shortly after.
“You have no idea how relieved I was to hear the chopper,” says Kay. “The pilot was amazing; he flew in so expertly, close to the fence line and landed nearby between a rock pile and a water trough.”
Although she is afraid of flying , Kay told herself that she was going to get into the helicopter when they took her daughter.
“I remember looking out of the window and seeing the farm and the bulls running away from us. Then, I recognised Kawakawa and not much longer after that I could see Whangarei coming up. The next thing we knew, we were on the roof of the hospital.”
They were not there for long, as a CT scan showed that Julie needed to be transferred immediately to Auckland Hospital for special care.
“They bundled us back into the helicopter with the same rescue crew, as well as a nurse and doctor from Whangarei. Then we flew very low all the way to keep the pressure off of Julie’s injuries.”
“I really appreciated the hugs from the pilot and paramedic, and the genuine concern shown for Julie’s future wellbeing as they left us at Auckland.”
Julie stayed in Auckland Hospital’s neurological ward overnight before being transferred to Greenlane Hospital the next morning for urgent surgery on her eye. Then after a two week wait for the swellling to subside, she had major facial bone reconstruction.
Julie has been left blind in one eye and her treatments still continue. But this beautiful 21 year old has maintained her positivity throughout the ordeal and continues to care for her horse in preparation for the next dressage season.
After her most recent operation, Julie and her mum took another flight together – but this time it was much more relaxing.
“We just thought ‘bugger it!’ We’re going to Australia to visit Julie’s dad in his week off work and we’re going to enjoy it!”
Their story is still very fresh in their minds and extremely emotional for Kay. However, they both want to raise awareness during this year’s rescue helicopter appeal.
“I feel really appreciative of the people who have trained to help others and the amazing skills they have. We need these guys as you never know what lies around the corner and the knowledge that they are a phone call away provides real comfort in a time of need.”