Patient Testimonial – Andrea Bielenberg

Unfortunately for the Bielenberg family, it took dire circumstances to discover what a difference RACQ CapRescue truly makes in the community.

Andrea Bielenberg recalls.

On 18th March 2023 – My family and I were staying at GKI for the weekend. Late in the afternoon, Audrey, my six-year-old daughter, and I were floating in the calm water, talking about the annoying sea lice that had been biting us all day. Suddenly Audrey screamed because she was bitten once again. I immediately scooped her out of the water and decided we’d had enough. Then I felt what I thought was a mass of sea lice biting me across the entire tops of my legs. I didn’t think anything sinister had stung us – it felt like the sea lice that had annoyed us all day.

Twenty minutes after being stung, Audrey started crying and screaming that her legs were broken. Then she collapsed to the floor, clutching her back. I couldn’t understand what was happening as I felt ok. Then the pain hit me. The pain was indescribable. Every muscle in my body was cramping, and I felt like I was being stabbed in my back. My skin was on fire. Only then it dawned on me that perhaps we were stung by a jellyfish.

By the time we got to the reception of GKI Hideaway, everyone was in a panic as no one knew how to help us. Triple 0 was called immediately, and it was decided that we had likely suffered a sting from an Irukandji jellyfish and that the CapRescue helicopter was needed.

The time waiting for the helicopter was the longest hour of my life. Apart from the excruciating pain, Irukandji syndrome causes a sense of impending doom. I honestly thought I was going to die that night. Audrey suffered the same symptoms. My husband, Matt, recalls Audrey looking at him and crying, “Daddy, I’m going to die today.” Matt thought he was going to lose both of us that night.

The sound of the helicopter flying overhead was one of the best sounds I’ve heard. The team immediately reassured us that we were both going to be ok. I spent the next eight days in the hospital. I underwent tests to assess for cardiac issues caused by the Irukandji syndrome. I continued to battle with generalised and neuropathic pain for over five weeks. I have now made a full recovery.

Thankfully, Audrey recovered quickly and was discharged from the hospital the day after we were rescued. For the following weeks, she couldn’t talk about the jellyfish or being on GKI, but she loved telling her story of the helicopter that saved her. She still sleeps with the soft toy helicopter given to her by (in her words) “the kind helicopter people that helped me and helped Mummy.”

Talking about how lucky we both were to have the Cap Rescue helicopter save us has been one of the biggest focuses in Audrey’s processing of this traumatic event. This event has started discussions throughout her school about the vital role of the CapRescue service in our community. Her class held a disco fundraiser and raised almost $800.

For myself, I am forever indebted to the CapRescue service. Being in excruciating pain was one thing. But, as a mother, knowing that my child was suffering simultaneously and unable to help her was very traumatic. Throughout the whole event, I just had to keep clinging to the knowledge that the rescue team would be there soon. I genuinely believe that without the help from CapRescue, my outcome would’ve been dire.

In addition to my gratitude, the reassurance the service provides for friends and family cannot be overstated. The mere sound of the approaching helicopter was instant relief for my husband and our friends on GKI, knowing that medical support was close. My concerned parents in Rockhampton were also relieved to hear the helicopter as it passed over their home on the way to retrieve us and again at the hospital as it returned with Audrey and I.

While the immediate benefit of expert medical support for patients is obvious, knowing that this support is accessible in more remote locations across CQ eases the concern for friends and family and is a valuable part of the overall service.