Aged 73

Highway horror

For an Adelaide resident who migrated from Germany 56 years ago, Inge Gutekunst has seen more of the Australian outback than many Australians.

Inge works with a motor vehicle hire company and performs the occasional relocation of a vehicle from one city to another. Inge was part-way through one such journey – from Perth to Adelaide – when things started to go horribly wrong.

She had already covered 1,900 kilometres from Perth and was taking a short break in Ceduna, a welcome "oasis town" 780km north-west of Adelaide.

"I had paid for fuel, and when I was walking back to the vehicle, I noticed my left leg wasn't moving normally. Then my left arm and hand went numb," Inge recalls.

"I rested for a while, and everything felt normal again, so I set off for Adelaide."

But more frightening events lay ahead.

"I had only progressed to second gear and travelled about one kilometre when my left hand just fell off the steering wheel, and I couldn't move it at all!”

"I couldn't change gears, so I slowly drove to Ceduna Hospital, still in second gear."

Inge had the good fortune to experience these very dangerous symptoms when on the doorstep of a remote SA hospital – after having driven for hours through some of the most remote parts of Australia.

Hospital medical staff examined Inge – who was now also experiencing slurred speech – and conducted tests which revealed her brain function was being affected.

If Inge was suffering a stroke she faced the threat of permanent disability or even death and needed rapid access to a specialised team of health professionals.

Inge was advised she needed to be airlifted urgently to Adelaide for specialist treatment.

Soon after a Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) aircraft left Ceduna with a RFDS Flight Nurse giving Inge the vital care in the air she desperately needed.

The road trip to Adelaide takes eight hours, but the RFDS aircraft covers this ground in just 90 minutes.

On arrival at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, scans revealed that Inge had suffered a stroke, a small bleed from a blood vessel in her brain – and a blockage was still preventing full blood flow to her brain.

Inge spent the next 10 days spent in hospital and made a complete recovery.

“My experience brought home to me how very important the RFDS is for city people travelling through remote areas. Without them, I’d have been lost!”

Inge Gutekunst
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The RFDS performs 100 aeromedical missions across Australia every day – over 15 flights in South Australia – to airlift a critically-ill patient from an outback location or country hospital to a major hospital for life-saving surgery or specialist care.

The RFDS also delivers critical support to those who live in urban centres. This includes the regular transfer of patients to interstate hospitals for life-saving surgery such as organ transplant and heart surgery on newborn babies.

We rely on bequests, sponsorships and donations to bridge the gap in our operational funding and to purchase our ‘flying intensive care units’ – at a cost of more than $7 million each.

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