With much of the year spent in lockdown, you might have thought 2020 would have been a quiet year for New Zealand’s many rescue helicopter crews, but in fact last year was the busiest ever.
The sight and sound of a rescue helicopter is something you come to expect around the Auckland region and its beaches and holiday spots over summer, and while you might only see a rescue on the way to a mission a couple of times, that mission would have been just one of the 1187 undertaken within just the Auckland and Coromandel regions last year.
Across the country, a total of 9,032 patients were assisted by a rescue helicopter in 2020, an increase of 1519 from 2019.
And, while many of us may barely notice the sight of a rescue helicopter, for thousands of others it represents hope, and the arrival of much-needed help.
Throughout Westpac Chopper Appeal Month in May, New Zealanders are asked to give generously to help the country’s 15 trusts continue flying these vital missions.
To 13 year-old Ethan Hepper and his family, the service the rescue choppers provide can never be underestimated, after he was involved in a motorbike accident, just two days before Christmas.
"I came around a corner on the races and hit a concrete lip. By the time dad got to me, I wasn't looking good," Ethan told The Project.
His body was smashed into a metal trailer, and then he was crushed by the falling motorbike.
Ethan’s dad Matt said he knew time was going to be critical from the moment he saw his son’s injuries.
"He was sort of fading in and out of consciousness, he was really gray. He’d wake up for a couple of seconds screaming in pain and then be gone again. So it was pretty scary," Matt said.
Ethan had sustained massive internal bleeding from a ruptured spleen and kidneys, and with the nearest hospital over an hour’s drive away, his life was seriously in danger.
"I'm pretty sure he wouldn't have made it without the blood transfusion, so the Westpac Rescue Helicopter with the doctors on board is pretty much the reason he made it," Matt Hepper said.
"We're basically a flying ED department or an ICU to the side of the road and actually starting the treatment right there," Russell Clarke, an intensive care paramedic onboard the Westpac Rescue Helicopter said.
"We completed an ultrasound examination of his abdomen, and we saw a lot of blood in his abdomen. So it was straight away that we realised we needed to get him to Starship Hospital for potential surgery to save his life."
Clarke said being able to begin the blood transfusion onboard bought Ethan the time to get him to hospital.
Aaron Knight, an air-crew officer and co-pilot was also onboard.
"Ethan saying, I can't breathe, I can't breathe. And that was generally due to the lack of blood. So without their blood, that flight and even being probably possibly wouldn't have made it," Knight said.
Clarke said operating choppers all day every day isn’t cheap, but it’s not just the helicopters that the trust needs money for.
"The ultrasound machine costs money, around thirty to forty thousand dollars, and then the training to run them, to use them appropriately, that also costs money," Clarke said.
"In Ethan's case, I refer to him as our Christmas miracle mission, because everything landed just right from the day he got early treatment. He got an early ultrasound to see that he was bleeding, he got an early transfusion and he got early to hospital."
This year, Westpac has teamed up with TradeMe, providing a more accessible way for Kiwis to support their local rescue helicopter.
Throughout May, Kiwis are encouraged to take part in the "Great Chopper Appeal Garage Sale" by listing an item on Trade Me using #chopperappeal and donating the amount raised from the sale to Chopper Appeal. Richie McCaw is donating a team jacket from the 2015 RWC.
"What a great way to recycle the treasures that no longer bring you joy, in a sustainable way, and support the rescue choppers at the same time," Westpac NZ Chief Executive David McLean said.
Westpac funds the marketing and administration costs of the Chopper Appeal, as well as distributing all funds raised back to donors’ local rescue helicopter trust.
People wishing to make a donation or find out more information can visit www.chopperappeal.co.nz.
This article was created for Westpac NZ