The Rotary Club of Atherton, Qld, recently partnered with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and other Rotary clubs and service organisations in Far North Queensland to provide a vocational visit to the Cairns RFDS base.
In April, a diverse group of humanitarians boarded a bus in Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands to make their way down the range to Cairns for an open day at the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) base.
While the main purpose of the road trip was to view a respiratory ventilator purchased with funds donated by the Rotary Club of Atherton and the local RFDS Near and Far Auxiliary, the day proved full of fun and fellowship, with many personal stories from guests whose lives had been touched by the RFDS.
Members of the Rotary Club of Atherton were joined by other local Rotary club members, along with members of the RFDS Near and Far Volunteer Auxiliary, Legacy and the National Servicemen’s Association (Nashos), retired medical personnel, farmers, graziers, ex-pilots, and community members representing families who have firsthand experience of the lifesaving role the RFDS plays in providing healthcare to Outback Australia.
One such guest was Nick Watling, the son of retired RFDS pilot Nick Watling Sr (now deceased), who gave the group an insight into the challenges and personal qualities needed for such a demanding job.
Nick Sr had military experience in Vietnam and Papua New Guinea flying Caribou and Hercules aircraft – both of which can use unprepared runways for take-offs and landings. After Nick’s military service he took a job in Cairns as a pilot for the Aerial Ambulance, flying a Cessna 172 in Far North Queensland from 1969-1979, which involved flying to remote communities, towns, and cattle stations. Nick then spent 18 years with the RFDS, retiring in 1997. Nick Sr was awarded an OAM for his work with the RFDS, flying 30,000 hours for them throughout his career.
Also in attendance was Grace McLaren, whose family has experienced three generations of critical medical retrievals. Her husband, Brian McLaren, of the Rotary Club of Atherton, passed away recently. At his memorial, the RFDS was acknowledged, and a significant donation made in his name.
“While the main purpose of the road trip was to view a respiratory ventilator purchased with funds donated by the Rotary Club of Atherton and the local RFDS Near and Far Auxiliary, the day proved full of fun and fellowship, with many personal stories from guests whose lives had been touched by the RFDS.”
Personal stories aside, the group also learned about the equipment used by the RFDS and the often-difficult conditions in which patients are treated. The respiratory ventilator and eye scanner are the most recent pieces of equipment donated to the Cairns Base.
While some thought the respiratory ventilator was part of the plane’s air conditioning system, it is in fact a highly technical piece of equipment that enables patients to keep breathing in an acute situation while they are flown to a hospital.
The eye scanner, purchased with funds raised by the RFDS Near and Far Volunteer Auxiliary, will enable the RFDS to screen for early detection of eye disease in infants and children in 15 remote clinics in Far North Queensland.
CEO of Cairns Base RFDS Justin Reeves informed participants about the Medical Chest, which is a box kept in a secure location at remote stations. It contains a system of numbered and labelled items, including medications, allowing RFDS to conduct remote consultations. This resource has proven to be a lifesaving strategy.
“Seeing the equipment we had raised funds for inspired our members to continue fundraising for the RFDS,” said President of the Rotary Club of Atherton Leigh Woltmann. “We had a lot of fun learning about what’s involved, and our club made some great connections with people from all walks of life.”
TOP BANNER IMAGE: The Rotary Club of Atherton, Qld, organised an open day at the Royal Flying Doctor Service Cairns base in April.
Looking to the future
In line with Rotary International President Gordon R. McInally’s theme to create hope in the world by working for peace and mental wellbeing, the Queensland RFDS is running a mental health program in the Cape called RFDS Mental Health and Wellbeing Service, where it is utilising Headspace, an organisation supporting young people with mental health, physical health (including sexual health) alcohol and other drug services, as well as work and study support at a crucial time in their lives to help get them back on track and strengthen their ability to manage their mental health in the future (www.headspace.org.au).