Anita Camilleri knows how life can change in a split second.
The 31-year-old Mirani mum realises how precious life is after she and her two-year-old daughter Aylah were seriously injured in a horrific head-on smash on the Mackay-Eungella Road on October 5 last year.
Anita had just dropped her son Seth off to school at Marian and was on her way to meet her mother-in-law at Walkerston before work when the accident occurred.
Anita remembers seeing “a car overtaking on a blind corner” near Pleystowe and immediately knew that a collision was imminent.
Her first thought was for her child restrained in the back seat of the dual cab Hilux – in fact, Anita turned around to look at Aylah right before impact and it was this motherly instinct which probably saved her face from horrific trauma when the car’s windscreen smashed in on impact.
Anita now believes her tiny daughter blacked out after the accident but she vividly remembers her screaming when she regained consciousness. She realised very quickly both of them were seriously injured and she panicked when she couldn’t move from the waist down.
She describes hearing her little girl screaming and being unable to comfort her as “absolutely devastating”.
Cane farmers and people from houses nearby rushed to their aid after the collision and it was then Anita was told that the driver of the other vehicle tragically didn’t survive the accident.
Both mother and daughter were transported by ambulance to Mackay Base Hospital, Aylah in a critical condition with a very serious head injury and Anita with serious pelvic and abdominal injuries.
“I could hear her screaming and going in and out of consciousness in the cubicle next to me at the hospital,” Anita said.
A paediatrician diagnosed Aylah with a serious bleed on the back of her brain and determined that she required urgent specialist care in Townsville.
“I was meant to go with her to Townsville but my own condition deteriorated and I needed immediate surgery in Mackay,” Anita said.
“I remember it all just happened so fast. We were told she needed to go to Townsville and in what seemed like an instant the CQ Rescue helicopter was there. There was definitely no waiting around,” she said.
Little Aylah was sedated for the flight and accompanied to Townsville by her grandmother while her father Luke drove north to be by his critically ill daughter’s bedside. RACQ CQ Rescue departed the Mackay Base Hospital at 1.45pm with a doctor and Critical Care Paramedic on board and arrived in Townsville just after 3 pm.
Aylah was in an induced coma for 12 hours, spent two days in the intensive care unit and another week in the hospital. Fortunately, the bleed in her brain subsided without surgical intervention.
Separated from her injured daughter and in a serious condition herself, it was three days after her surgery before CT scans showed Anita had also sustained a broken ankle and s fractures in her neck and back.
Anita admits both the physical and emotional trauma of the accident combined with the ongoing rehabilitation months later has changed her and her family’s outlook on life.
“Time is so precious, you can’t let all the little things worry you because life can change in the blink of an eye,” Anita said.
“We are just so incredibly grateful for all the help we received, from the emergency services getting us to the medical help we needed and to the community as a whole for their ongoing support,” she said.
“It was such a terrifying time but we knew Aylah was in great hands and getting the best possible care on board the helicopter at that critical time on her way to Townsville.
“It’s been truly overwhelming and we can’t say ‘thank you’ enough,” she said.
Aylah suffered nightmares for a short time after the accident and although Anita believes she remembers what happened, she’s now back to being her bubbly and beautiful self.
Aylah has made an incredible recovery although she still visits the paediatrician every three months to check her progress. For Anita, the road to recovery is long and her rehabilitation is still ongoing.
But they are getting there “slowly and surely”, she said. Together, and that’s what matters most.