Crash survivor speaks out: 'I’m so lucky to be here'
FORMER RACQ LifeFlight Rescue patient, Ella Bridges, hopes sharing her story will help other young drivers understand the debilitating and often-overlooked effects of road accidents.
Ms Bridges was airlifted by the Toowoomba-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter after the ute she was driving rolled on a property near Wandoan in July 2013.
The combination of gravel road conditions and an unfamiliar vehicle nearly cost Ms Bridges and her friend, a passenger in the vehicle, their lives.
"I misjudged the road conditions while trying to avoid a pothole on a gravel road. The car flipped twice and landed on its roof," she said.
Ms Bridges will speak in Toowoomba as part of the Rotary Youth Driver Awareness program - RYDA delivered by the combined Rotary Clubs of Darling Downs.
The event today, presented in partnership with LifeFlight Foundation corporate sponsor Nexus Infrastructure will educate senior high school students from Downlands College, Agnew School and DD Christian College, about road safety and includes presentations from crash survivors, emergency services and driving schools.
Ms Bridges had a badly broken collarbone and suffered a concussion in the accident - but her struggle was far from over after they climbed out of the car wreck on that fateful day.
The remote location of the property meant there was no phone reception and the pair was forced to walk more than 5km in agony, before they found someone who could drive them to somewhere with a landline to phone an ambulance.
"We had a water bottle with us so we would walk some distance, stop, have a drink and then get up and keep going," she recalls.
"We both knew we needed to find someone to get help. As soon as someone found us I collapsed and passed out, it was just adrenaline which kept us going until then."
It was almost two and half hours after the accident before Ms Bridges finally received medical treatment.
At Miles Hospital, doctors suspected she may have suffered a spinal injury and quickly alerted RACQ LifeFlight Rescue which airlifted her to Toowoomba Hospital for further treatment.
Tests confirmed she had suffered a badly broken collarbone but had survived with no spinal injuries.
"I was very lucky to walk away from that. All the firefighters and police who saw the accident said neither of us should have walked away," Ms Bridges said.
"My parents noticed my attitudes and behaviour changed pretty well straight away. I realised that moment could have ended differently and I'm so lucky to be here."
While Ms Bridges had minimal physical scars, she is still healing emotionally from the accident, and wants to help educate young drivers about the unseen and forgotten effects of road accidents.
She was forced to move back home with her parents as she struggled with her broken collarbone, and the post-traumatic stress from the accident meant she eventually had to drop out of her law degree.
"After the accident I was dealing with a lot of PTSD and had to go to counselling. Law seemed too hard to deal with at the time so I enrolled in a different course but it wasn't what I wanted to do," she said.
"I had always dreamed of joining the army as a lawyer but without a law degree that dream fell apart."
Ms Bridges - who attended a RYDA program when she was at school - wants to share her story and help motivate other young drivers to be safe.
"When I went to RYDA in school I remember thinking, 'I'm a straight-A student, I'm never going to do anything silly, I'm never going to drink drive or drive tired'," Ms Bridges said.
"I brushed it off and thought if I made all the right choices I would be fine. But now I want to have the opportunity to go and talk to young people who are probably similar and say, Look - it's not always about doing the right thing, it can happen anyway. You always need to take the road conditions into account."
Corporate sponsor, Nexus Infrastructure knows how important road safety education is for young drivers and is passionate about its support of the program.
"Nexus is proud to work with LifeFlight to support this worthwhile program," Nexus CEO John Hagan said.
"Our commitment to safer roads in this region is more than just building safer roads but also educating our next generation of road users on driver behaviour in hope that LifeFlight responds to less and less road accidents."
Ms Bridges is now back at university completing her law degree and will speak at RYDA programs in Darling Downs schools across the South-West region over the next two years.