Laura-Lee Tait

Laura-Lee Tait doesn’t remember being flown in a Northland Rescue Helicopter from Kaitaia to Whangarei Hospital.

She also doesn’t remember the flight shortly after that, on her way to Auckland Hospital either.

In fact, two whole weeks of her memory is permanently missing from her recollection – but she knows those two flights were an integral piece of the puzzle of how she is still alive and breathing today.

Living in Northland’s rural reaches near Mangonui, Laura-Lee’s week had been like any other. She had worked for seven days straight so she could have a long weekend off.

She had come home from work to her family land, where her home and that of her mother is. She was more than tired – very fatigued – but put that down to her long hours of work for the week.

A persistent headache pounded between her ears, but she plied it with paracetamol and it would fade enough for her to continue her duties around the home – until she realised she had used the last of her paracetamol and walked up to her mum’s house to search for some more. Her mum was away and Laura-Lee went straight to the bathroom cabinet and found what she needed – but then felt the world slide around her and she blacked out.

Waking up on the floor of her mum’s bathroom, Laura-Lee knew something wasn’t quite right but was still thinking it was the fatigue of a long week.

“I still was just thinking I had overdone it – that I needed to rest. I managed to get myself off the floor and make it to my mum’s bed to rest up for a bit. No one else was home at hers, so I just took a moment and lay there until I felt better,” she says.

“I went back to home and my brother was there. We thought we better ring our sister to wish her a happy birthday since it had struck midnight – we video called her and sat out in the carport to chat with her and catch up.”

The hours ticked on and conversations flowed – as did a few sips of beer to help her sister toast her birthday.

“I am not much of a drinker but wanted to toast her birthday with her – and then I realised that I was feeling really cold. I asked my brother to get a jacket for me and it was then I realised I couldn’t move my arm and hand properly to put the jacket on. I thought it wasn’t right but just wrapped it around me instead, thinking I was really tired and should get to bed as it was nearing 3am and I was so tired.”

A few minutes later, after ending the call to her sister, Laura-Lee realised she couldn’t stand unaided. Again, putting it down to being exhausted, she didn’t think too much of it and just wanted to get into bed.

Her brother had other ideas and kept insisting on calling an ambulance – but she declined.

“I honestly thought I just needed sleep. I didn’t want to make a fuss.”

As he helped her to her room and into bed, her brother continued to insist on calling an ambulance – and once she was tucked up in to bed, he did so without telling her – ultimately saving her life.

“Lucky for me he didn’t listen to me, as I would not have woken up in the morning.”

Unbeknown to them both, Laura-Lee was suffering a brain aneurysm and was close to death. By the time the St John Ambulance officers arrived and transported her to Kaitaia Hospital, Laura-Lee was already slipping into unconsciousness.

Upon arrival at hospital, doctors made the immediate call to send her to Whangarei Hospital – and within a short time of landing there, she was back in the Northland Rescue Chopper after being diagnosed with the aneurysm and requiring immediate specialist emergency surgery, she was on her way to Auckland Hospital. By some chance of a miracle, on arriving at Auckland Hospital they were able to use non-surgical methods to correct the aneurysm, she says.

But she remembers nothing of it all – only waking up nearly two weeks after her operation, and realising how lucky she was to be alive. After two weeks in Auckland, Laura-Lee was transferred back to Whangarei Hospital for rehabilitation.

“You look at everything differently now. I can’t do as much as I used to, and I had to relearn how to do so much again – but I am alive. I am on this side of the ground and not six feet under. I honestly believe that without the Northland Rescue Chopper I wouldn’t be here today – the speed in which they could get me to each point of help, that is what helped save my life.”

Two years on, Laura-Lee has relocated to Wellington and is learning to live with her new limitations, but says she is just happy to be alive.

“I don’t take anything for granted anymore. I know I am lucky to be here.”

And she says, people need to ensure they don’t take the rescue helicopters for granted too.

“When you are at the emergency department of Whangarei Hospital and the chopper comes in, you smell the fumes from the chopper and I know people complain. I was there once and the chopper landed and people were saying `oh the smell’ and I simply told them that the `smell’ was lifesaving. It saved my life and helps to save other lives nearly every day. That smell meant something different after that!”

“They were there and they helped save my life – you can’t put a price on that.”

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