HORRIFIC EXPERIENCE: Robyn Neilson was the first responder to a horrific accident at Mac and Gayle Shann's Moranbah property in 2002.
HORRIFIC EXPERIENCE: Robyn Neilson was the first responder to a horrific accident at Mac and Gayle Shann's Moranbah property in 2002. Contributed

Nothing prepared Robyn for the horror she faced

NOTHING, not even being a trained nurse, could prepare Robyn Neilson for the horror she was about to face as she arrived at her neighbour's property following a call for help.

She found Gayle Shann bleeding profusely from a wound where her right arm once was, her eye protruding from her face, her leg broken and her left arm damaged into paralysis.

Gayle, 27 at the time, and her husband Mac had been installing fence posts on their property just north of Moranbah when her glove was caught in a rotor powering a hole digger, the force flinging her around, causing the horrific injuries.

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Mac and Gayle Shann still live and work on their Moranbah property following the accident.
Mac and Gayle Shann still live and work on their Moranbah property following the accident. Gerard Walsh

It was Robyn's self described "obsession with farm safety" that allowed her to respond quickly and effectively in the days before mobile phones and GPS - providing the Rural Flying Doctors Service with ready-to-hand position co-ordinates, and surface and length details about nearby landing strips.

Mac and Gayle Shann's story in 2002 made waves in the Australian media and proved a game-changer for rural farm safety around the country. That moment, 16 years ago, also changed Robyn's life and she shared that experience with 300 rural doctors and medical students in Cairns last week.

"This is the first time I've told my story to a group of medical practitioners and I appeal to you as rural doctors to become champions for rural safety," Robyn told the audience at the 2019 Rural Doctors Association of Queensland conference.

 

First responder and farm safety advocate Robyn Neilson spoke to doctors at the 2019 RDAQ Conference.
First responder and farm safety advocate Robyn Neilson spoke to doctors at the 2019 RDAQ Conference.

Ms Neilson had spent almost two hours fighting for Gayle's life, taking charge of the scene and, under direction of RFDS doctors, worked to stop the bleeding, even holding Gayle's exposed blood vessels together with her bare hands.

Dr Cliff Neppe was the attending RDFS Medical Officer that day.

"Essentially, in the time period between the accident happening and medical help arriving, Robyn single-handedly kept Gayle alive," Dr Neppe said.

Almost straight after the RFDS transported Gayle to Townsville Hospital, Robyn's own post-traumatic stress disorder kicked in and left her a "vomiting, crying mess".

"I couldn't understand it, as nothing had happened to me," Robyn said.

Her message for rural doctors was to look after themselves and other first responders but to also be proactive about promoting farm safety and accident prevention.

"Rural doctors are an important conduit to the farm safety process. I would like to see material about farm accident prevention in surgeries and WorkCover Queensland have some very good products," she said.

"More importantly, though, it's to have those difficult conversations.

"If someone comes in with a broken arm, or a laceration, or a child has fallen off a vehicle, to discuss farm safety procedures and to ask if they have evacuation plans in place if something worse occurs."

RDAQ President Dr Clare Walker said farm accidents, particularly trauma in children from work and recreational activities, had become common place in rural medical practice.

"When we are treating the injury, we don't always think about how prevention can be addressed so this is a good reminder," Dr Walker said.

"The Rural Doctors' Conference is a great place for this message as we often work in isolation but each year we come together with peers and colleagues from across the state.

"We use the opportunity to debrief so learning how to also prevent injuries and the situations that traumatise first responders, including doctors, is important."

Robyn now guest lectures at James Cook University with an emphasis on rural farm safety.

She is also developing a free-to-download app to help implement on-farm safety systems.



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