Bravery award winner Sandra Lawler receives her medal with son Ben Leadbeatter (3). Ms Lawler trekked through swollen river crossings and up cliffs with her two sons to get baby Samuel, not pictured, to hospital after he developed breathing problems.
Bravery award winner Sandra Lawler receives her medal with son Ben Leadbeatter (3). Ms Lawler trekked through swollen river crossings and up cliffs with her two sons to get baby Samuel, not pictured, to hospital after he developed breathing problems. JAY CRONAN

Medal for brave mum

A MOTHER’S courage has been rewarded by the NSW Ambulance Service.

Sandra Lawler climbed through sodden, leech-infested rainforest for three hours to reach help for her sick baby last May.

Cut off by floodwaters in Upper Wilsons Creek, Ms Lawler, 43, became frantic when ambos and emergency services were unable to reach her and treat ailing Samuel, then aged seven months. The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter battled atrocious conditions but was twice unable to land because of high winds.

When her power and telephone failed on the fourth day, Ms Lawler decided her only option was to try to walk out.

With the aid of her brother, Jason Campbell, who carried Samuel, Ms Lawler dragged herself and her elder boy Ben, now three, up nearly 400m of steep hills to reach a ridge and find a way out of the isolated valley.

It was a terrifying experience, she said, and she spent much of the journey crying with fear and worry.

To make matters worse, Ms Lawler has transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder that can affect balance. Desperation gave her strength, but she said: “I couldn’t walk for three days afterwards.”

Ms Lawler’s partner, Phillip Leadbeatter, was in Ballina helping his parents weather the storm when Ms Lawler was marooned.

At an award ceremony at Mullumbimby Ambulance station on Thursday Mr Leadbetter said of his partner’s courage: “I can’t believe it. She’s a legend.”

Wayne McKenna, NSW Ambulance’s acting district manager for the Tweed zone, was in the operations centre in Lismore after days of torrential rain which caused flooding all along the coast from Tweed to Maclean.

Conditions were the worst he had experienced in the 13 years he had been based in the Northern Rivers, Mr McKenna said.

Samuel, who was suffering from a serious chest infection, was taken to Tweed Hospital and treated with three consecutive lots of antibiotics.

“He took a few months to get better,” Ms Lawler said.

Ben received an eye injury during their ordeal, but hadn’t uttered a peep and bounced back quickly.

The award was the Ambulance Service’s Commendation for Courage – Community section, Mr McKenna said. And he told Ms Lawler: “We don’t give many of these out.”

Ms Lawler called the ambos at 9.20am on May 21, distressed about Samuel’s respiratory condition. She knew he needed medical attention, and had been counting on the rains easing. Her concern turned to panic when the power failed soon after, and she couldn’t keep Samuel warm or boil any water.

When her brother arrived, having walked from his home two creek crossings down, Ms Lawler knew what she had to do.

She rugged the children up, but raincoats became ripped and fell away, and their clothing was soaked.

The ascent took them to a ridge line with sheer cliffs on either side.

Even their fox terrier, Zac, accompanied them on their trek, though he had to be hoisted up by his lead during their steep ascent through the dense bush. When they saw the ambulance approaching by the first river crossing, Ms Lawler said she wept again, this time with relief.

Receiving her award, she said: “It’s wonderful. It came as a great surprise.”



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