Coromandel teen's mystery brush with death

LIFE CHANGED: Whangamata teenager Rebecca Gilchrist survived a mysterious, life threatening illness after collapsing in a classroom.
LIFE CHANGED: Whangamata teenager Rebecca Gilchrist survived a mysterious, life threatening illness after collapsing in a classroom.

A mystery brush with death taught a Coromandel pupil a lesson that no teacher could ever instill in a student.

It made Rebecca Gilchrist realise that a stable life can crumble while sitting at her desk on another Monday in paradise at Whangamata Area School.

The 15-year-old ate an apple in food class - a short time later she started to feel ill.

When Gilchrist's body slumped forward and her eyes rolled into the back of her head her friends and teachers knew it was something far more serious than boredom.

"I remember very little about the incident, just snippets" Gilchrist says. "I remember being in class and hearing muffled voices and then ... nothing. The next thing I remember before waking up in hospital was the gas being put over my mouth and a man telling me that the drugs may feel funny." 

The blankness erased the actions of Dr Robert Gooch and intensive care flight paramedic, Ross Aitken, who arrived on the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

They arrived to find Gilchrist in a semi-conscious state. She could not control her own breathing, Aitken said.

"There was some discussion about the pros and cons of performing a rapid sequence induction and decided this was the best action. We sedated and paralysed Rebecca with medication and then used a video laryngoscope to pass a breathing tube down her throat to take control of her ventilation."

They rushed Gilchrist to Waikato Hospital in the helicopter in a critical condition.She spent 24 hours in hospital undergoing a multitude of tests and spent almost two weeks recovering at home.

But her illness remains a mystery. The lesson it gave, however, is clear.

"This ordeal really frightened me and made me realise that in the blink of an eye everything can change. To this day I cannot repay the crew of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter enough. I know for the rest of my life I will be supporting them."

Now she's happy to be back at school and enjoying life again.

 "I aspire to be like the team that saved me and am working hard in science class as I hope to go on to medical school."


Missions to the Coromandel from Auckland have sky rocketed. Out of the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter's 923 missions last year, 238 of them were to the peninsula.

There have already been 208 Coromandel missions this year. If that trend continues, by the end of the year the Trust could be looking at around 400 missions to the area.

One resident knows well the importance of the rescue service. Rebecca Harris, of Whitianga, was 12 when the helicopter saved her in 2009.

Since then, her and her mother, Alison, have raised over $30,000 for the Trust.

Harris aims to raise $10,000 every year. As a result of their efforts, the duo were officially recognised as ambassadors for the Trust in the Coromandel. Harris is rather proud of the title. 

"To be officially recognised is great, but what is even better is that it has given us the opportunity to continue raising money and save more lives through this vital emergency service.''

To watch Gilchrist's rescue unfold, tune in to Code:1 on TV 2 on Thursday, August 14  at 8 8pm.

If you'd like to help fund the next mission text CHOPPER to 5339 to make a $3 donation.

Waikato Times