Ethan’s story

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A terrible accident

Mum Monica describes the time that followed her son Ethan’s accident as the worst ten hours of her life. The Auckland family had just arrived in Fiji for a family holiday when four-year-old Ethan experienced an horrific accident that changed the course of their lives.

Arriving by ferry to the offshore island resort the family’s two young children quickly changed and headed to the pool for a swim accompanied by Mum, Monica.

A living nightmare

What happened next was any parent’s worst nightmare. Ethan’s beach ball disappeared into a pool filter which was without its protective cover and the young boy immediately tried to retrieve it.

Monica explains what happened; “He went to reach the ball and he couldn’t and he just got sucked into this filter and he got stuck. It was really terrifying.”

“I was trying to bring him out but because of the strong suction I couldn’t. I was trying to get him out and all the people on the island were trying to help us. When we managed to get him out, he was already badly injured.”

Realising the extent of Ethan’s obvious and serious abdominal injuries his parents feared the worst.  “At the time I remember my husband said he’s not going to make it. I didn’t know what to do; I didn’t know how to process it.”

Wrapped in a swimming towel and cuddled by his Dad Ali young Ethan was transferred by boat, then helicopter to mainland Fiji.

“This whole time there was no nurse - just me and my husband. He was wrapped up in the swimming towel and we hopped on the helicopter and we landed at what was like a very small clinic.”

“I felt helpless. I didn’t see anybody with medical experience, and I didn’t have it. I felt terrified. I thought I was losing my son and I didn’t know what to do.”

Transferred to the local hospital Ethan’s family were told he needed urgent surgery to save his life which he underwent in Fiji.

Hope arrives in Fiji

While this was unfolding, Starship was alerted and the Starship National Air ambulance prepared for a retrieval mission to collect Ethan from Fiji. Two Starship surgeons were among the crew that flew north to help the young Kiwi boy whose life hung in the balance. 

Monica describes the feeling when she knew the Starship team were on the ground. Before that she hadn’t allowed herself to sleep for fear her boy wouldn’t be there when she woke. For ten hours she didn’t eat or rest.

“He was the only patient there in the room and I overheard people in the hallway saying the New Zealand people are here. I wondered ‘is this a dream?’ because I hadn’t eaten, I hadn’t slept and I thought maybe I was dreaming. But when the people walked in with the equipment and I heard the Kiwi accent I knew they are really here. I just couldn’t believe it they came to Fiji to rescue my son.”

“It gave me hope. The Starship doctor said to me, ‘We are going to bring him home’. When they said that to me I knew he would be safe.”

Relief for Ethan’s family

The specialist and highly trained retrieval team worked to stabilise Ethan to ensure he was well enough to make the transfer flight to New Zealand.
“My husband and I were able to come back together with Ethan in the air ambulance. It was such a relief. I fell asleep for a couple of hours because I knew he was being taken care of.

Ethan was cared for in Starship’s Paediatric Intensive Care Unit for 6 days and since the accident has required ongoing care, treatment and support at our national children’s hospital due to the extent of his injuries. Monica explains that Ethan was in and out of Starship for around one and a half years.

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So grateful to the Air Ambulance service

His parents are truly grateful for the Starship National Air Ambulance service and for all the people from multiple teams at Starship who have played a part in Ethan’s recovery.

“It was an experience that you wouldn’t want to happen, but when you do experience it, it is truly amazing what they did and it makes you understand how important it is to have this service. They did save my son’s life. If it wasn’t for them he wouldn’t be here.”

Asked what she would say to them Monica says; “Just a huge thank you. Because he is my son and they saved him and he has got many years to live because of what they did for us. It was life changing.”

“The Starship National Air Ambulance is very important. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or within the next year. But when something actually happens, like what happened to Ethan, you know there are people you can count on who will save your life.”

“It’s for all New Zealand children. Children are our future. I can’t really imagine how my life would be without my son. But now he is here, and I see him every day. And that is everything for me.”

Monica describes how her son has surprised her. “I feel the whole thing has changed him a lot - from a sensitive boy to a really brave and tough young man. It is really amazing for me to see how he has changed. He’s been through lots of surgeries and whatever treatment needed to be done - he just got on with it. He turned out really brave.”

Four years on from that day Ethan’s future is bright thanks to Starship and the Starship National Air Ambulance service.

We really need your help to keep the Starship National Air Ambulance flying
Your generous support will help children like Ethan get life-saving treatment and care when they need it. Our Starship National Air Ambulance service is relied on by critically ill children and their families from all over New Zealand. Each year more than $1.5 million is required to fund the vital service andyour generous support will ensure the Starship National Air Ambulance can be available at a moment’s notice year round for every child in urgent need. Thank you for your generosity.


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