News

My baptism of fire in a Soweto trauma ward

Luke Nottingham says the two months he spent working in a Soweto trauma ward were the most demanding of his life.
Luke Nottingham says the two months he spent working in a Soweto trauma ward were the most demanding of his life. DOUG CONWAY

LUKE Nottingham's first job in an emergency trauma ward in South Africa was a medical baptism of fire.

But it proved to be great training for his role now as a LifeFlight Critical Care Doctor.

The young Sunshine Coast doctor worked at the world's third largest hospital in Johannesburg as part of his University of Queensland medical placement.

He recalls the two months he spent working at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital trauma ward, in the Soweto area south of Johannesburg, to be the most demanding months of his life.

The hospital's busy trauma department deals with stabbings and gang violence on a daily basis as well as 160 gunshot victims every month.

The Soweto area is a notorious crime hot spot and has a high rate of unemployment, making it a dangerous place to both work and live.

Surgeons do some amazing work at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.
Surgeons do some amazing work at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. LORI WASELCHUK

"It was a really intimidating, unparalleled and eye opening experience. I'd never seen anything close to it before,” Luke said.

"I mainly worked in the trauma resuscitation room and it was completely unlike anything that exists in Australia.”

Luke recalls one of the most extreme cases he encountered was treating a 20-year-old girl who had been stabbed in the heart and lungs by an outraged family member wielding a knitting needle, after the girl returned home late at night past her curfew time.

He also took part in a range of surgical procedures including amputations, chest drains, emergency open heart surgery and airway procedures.

Luke worked with other students and doctors from around the world and was required to work 24-hour shifts with almost no time for breaks.

"We'd be working through the entire day and night and then get yelled at for taking a 15 minute break,” he recalls.

Violence is common in the Soweto area, where Luke dealt with the results of stabbing and shootings on an almost daily basis.
Violence is common in the Soweto area, where Luke dealt with the results of stabbing and shootings on an almost daily basis. KIM LUDBROOK

During his time in South Africa, Luke lived with a host family in a gated community about half an hour away from the hospital, which required three security checkpoint clearances before entry.

He would travel to and from work with other medical students in what he described as a "dodgy rental car” that was prone to break down and was instructed by locals not to stop at red lights during the journey, for fear of being robbed.

Despite the intense conditions he experienced in South Africa, Luke describes the country as a "beautiful place” which advanced his professional skills dramatically in a short period of time.

"The experience really confirmed my interest in critical care and passion for trauma and resuscitation medicine,” Luke said.

After moving back to the Sunshine Coast and working for five years in the intensive care unit, anaesthetics and emergency at Nambour Hospital, Luke set his sights on joining one of the world's leading aeromedical services, LifeFlight, as a Critical Care Doctor.

LifeFlight, the leading Queensland charity which is a world leader in aeromedical care, recruits and trains around 130 doctors every year, supplying medical staff to all Queensland-based emergency medical retrieval services.

For all the dangers and horrors which life in Soweto presented, Luke got to see some of the most beautiful places in the world during his brief time in South Africa.
For all the dangers and horrors which life in Soweto presented, Luke got to see some of the most beautiful places in the world during his brief time in South Africa. Contributed

LifeFlight doctors are aboard not only RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopters, but also rescue aircraft based at Cairns, Townsville, Toowoomba, Mackay, Rockhampton, Sunshine Coast, Roma and Brisbane.

At any hour of the day, there is an average of two LifeFlight Doctors in the air around Queensland, saving lives. LifeFlight doctors treat and transport more than 10 patients every day, caring for almost 5000 people per year.

Luke's career with LifeFlight began in January with two weeks of intensive air-medical training at the LifeFlight Training Academy in Brisbane along with 23 other doctors from around the world.

Less than a year into the job, Luke has been involved in a number of extreme missions.

The young doctor's first LifeFlight mission was a tragic incident on February 12 involving an inflatable pool toy at Tin Can Bay near Gympie, where two boys aged eight and nine were playing in the channel off Norman Point when it's believed their toy blew away, leaving the pair stranded in deep water.

Luke and a friend abseiling in South Africa.
Luke and a friend abseiling in South Africa. Contributed

Both boys were brought to shore and Luke flew to the scene in the Sunshine Coast based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter and treated the eight-year-old.

Once he was stable enough to travel, the crew airlifted him to Nambour Hospital in a critical condition. Tragically the other young boy died on the scene.

"It's unbelievable that my first rescue with the organisation was being called to the scene of such a tragic accident,” Luke said.

"We were airborne within 10 minutes of receiving the emergency call, and worked with Queensland Ambulance Service and lifeguards at the scene the second we hit the ground to do everything we could for the patient in what was an awful situation.”

Less than two weeks later, Luke was part of another dramatic accident when a 38-year-old man suffered critical injuries after having his head crushed in a piece of industrial machinery.

The crew airlifted the patient, whose injuries included face and oral trauma and a broken neck in multiple places. He was transported in a critical condition from Biggenden Hospital to Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital Intensive Care Unit.

Luke has been involved in many other diverse missions, including treating a patient with a life-threatening snake bite, treating an 18-month-old girl with life threatening brain and neck injuries after a fatal car accident, performing CPR on a 14-year-old in Currimundi, treating a 30-year-old woman after a cardiac arrest in the middle of a cricket oval in Tin Can Bay and managing a patient with a gunshot wound to his head on a farm near Gympie.

Despite being confronted with numerous traumatic situations, Luke has found a way to deal with the trauma.

Luke and his colleagues on a Careflight crew on the landing pad of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital.
Luke and his colleagues on a Careflight crew on the landing pad of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital. Contributed

"It's not until you get home later that night that you realise the extent of everything,” he said.

"It's important that you try not to accumulate mental scars from each job. The LifeFlight crew takes time to debrief at the base after each day to check in with each other and talk about what we feel we could improve on.

"Working as part of such a great team is one of my favourite parts of the job.

"We work together to get the best outcome for each patient and it's really satisfying when you know you helped save someone's life.”

Topics:  lifeflight rescue helicopter your story


Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Wilson's thrilling win at Tahiti ignites world title claims

CHAMP: Julian Wilson won the Billabong Pro Tahiti to move to fifth in the world rankings.

'I was already enjoying myself on tour but now even more-so.'

Mum killed by truck an 'amazing, lovely, caring friend'

Sharon Cuthbert was killed after being hit by a truck in Coolum on July 27.

Tributes come pouring in for a Coolum woman who died last night

Why this hall's celebration is more a lament

THE Coolum Community Hall in its original location on the David Low Way where McDonald's now stands. Photo: Blair McNamara.

Why for one community hall festival won't be a celebration

Local Partners

Queensland freezes as temps fall as low as -3.7°C

QUEENSLAND towns have shivered through the coldest morning in two years today as other parts of the state dropped to below freezing temperatures.

REVEALED: Liam Gallagher is coming to Falls Festival

English musician, singer, and songwriter, former lead singer of the rock band Oasis, Liam Gallagher performs during his concert at National Olympic Sports Center in Beijing, China, 10 August 2017.

He revealed the news ahead of the official line up announcement

Jemma's bewitching voice

STAGE PRESENCE: Suzie Mathers and Jemma Rix in a scene from Wicked The Musical.

Wicked musical theatre star Jemma Rix has released her debut album.

This laughter yoga video will have you in fits of giggles

BEST MEDICINE: Karen Flannery is spreading happiness through laughter throughout Hervey Bay.

New members needed for a laughing good time

Reese Witherspoon on being a ‘has-been’ at 36

REESE Witherspoon might have an Oscar on her mantle and made millions at the box office but that hasn’t stopped people declaring her career is over.

RECAP: Game of Thrones s7 e6 - Beyond the Wall

Kristofer Hivju, Kit Harington, Iain Glen, Paul Kaye and Joe Dempsie in a scene from Game of Thrones.

*Warning this story contains spoilers about today's new episode*

Paul Kelly announces massive Australian tour

Paul Kelly is going on a 16-date national tour in November.

Music legend thrills fans with the announcement of a massive tour.

Survivor twist bound to shock

Sunshine Coast mum-of-three Tara Pitt.

TARA Pitt benefited from a shock twist on Australian Survivor.

The Block goes back to school with gorgeous kids rooms

Ronnie and Georgia's winning kids bedroom in a scene from The Block.

ONE magical bedroom received the first perfect score of the season.

What's on the small screen this week

Rob Collins and Jessica Marais in a scene from season two of The Wrong Girl.

JESSICA Marais returns in The Wrong Girl.

Playing Tom Cruise's wife was a dream for Sarah Wright

Tom Cruise and Sarah Wright in American Made.

The actress stars opposite Cruise in the action comedy

Investors quick to snap up property in key growth corridor

High-profile commercial site sells at auction for $4.920m

EXPLAINED: What the 'Costco effect' means for Ipswich

PRICE WARS: A Costco store similar to this one in Canberra, is planned for Ipswich.

Exclusive 'cult' about to change how families do grocery shopping

4800 homes to be built in massive new Coast estate

Masterplanned community full steam ahead - it's not Caloundra South

Open for inspection homes August 17 - 23

Check out this weekend's homes open for inspection.

Airbnb, Stayz and co tipped to squeeze Coast housing market

HOLIDAY BOOM: Airbnb letting is putting a further squeeze on long-term rentals.

Councils exploring options to manage the industry

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!