Matilda’s flight for life
In the middle of the night, seven-year-old Matilda boarded a life-saving flight that would become a defining moment in her life. Devastatingly Matilda had just hours earlier been diagnosed with leukaemia at her local hospital in Hastings. Her kidneys were already shutting down and she needed urgent dialysis and treatment.
Matilda’s mum, Fiona recalls the moment she was told Starship’s Air Ambulance was on its way, in the middle of the night, to pick Matilda up. “That’s when the gravity of the situation hit me. I realised she had no time to lose.”
When the crew arrived in Hastings they found Matilda in a critical condition, the cancer was spreading quickly and her body was starting to shut down. The team worked at speed to connect Matilda to the life-saving equipment that would ensure her safe transportation to Starship, where she could receive the specialist care she so urgently needed.
“I remember feeling scared, very, very scared that it was all happening so suddenly. That a team of people were flying to us to retrieve her really signified the seriousness of the situation we were in.”
A whirlwind flight
Fiona’s memory of the actual flight is blurry but there is one image that has stuck clearly in her mind. “She had a big machine on top of her and there were lots of tubes. I remember looking at her and being shocked and so petrified that all this gear was needed. My head was absolutely whirling. It was all happening so quickly and I was trying to make sense of it.
“If Matilda had not been flown to Starship so quickly, I think she would’ve passed away that night.”
Fiona recalls the special mix of expert skill and emergency care from the Air Ambulance team who arrived to collect Matilda had that night. “They were so gentle and caring and kind, but also very professional and efficient. They knew how to deal with a family in crisis. We were scared, but we were relieved at the same time. We knew we were in good hands and Matilda would get to the place where she needed to be, quickly.”
Heart breaking news
On arrival at Starship, Matilda was wheeled into the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit and into the care of Starship’s highly-trained team of doctors and nurses. “I recall how amazing the whole set-up was, all the facilities they had. Everything was happening in front of me and the medical team were so calm, but I just felt like I was in some terrible dream.”
At Starship, tests revealed a large tumour on Matilda’s chest, which was diagnosed as t-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Matilda’s bone marrow was making way too many red and white blood cells: “the little factory had a malfunction and was overproducing things.”
Matilda’s tumour was growing aggressively and her body couldn’t cope. Her kidneys had failed and she needed to be put on dialysis before she could start chemotherapy.
“It broke my heart having to tell Tilda how sick she was and that for a while she was only going to get sicker. But the Starship team were amazing. They helped us figure out what to say to Tilda to keep her positive and they made her feel so comfortable, despite her sickness.”
As soon as her body was strong enough, Matilda began treatment for the cancer. She remained in Starship for six weeks before she was well enough to go home. The plan that followed was one year of intensive chemotherapy followed by one year of maintenance. Matilda was diagnosed in August 2015 and finished her treatment in December 2017.
A happy ending
Matilda’s mum distinctly remembers a shift of focus when she came off her medication at the end of 2017. “At the beginning of 2018 before school started she said to me ‘Mum I’m going to sign up for every possible activity I can!’ She’s learned everything from kapa haka to futsal to horse riding. There’s really no stopping her now! In spite of the gruelling extra-curricular schedule, she never complains about being tired or misses a practice. She’s never ever tried to get a day off school. I’m really proud of her for that. She gives everything a go and gives it 100%.”
We really need your help to keep the Starship National Air Ambulance flying
Your generous support will help children like Matilda 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 and your 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.