Phillip Leadbeatter has some pretty complimentary things to say about his partner, Sandra Lawler, the mother of their two young boys, Benjamin and Samuel.
“She’s a champion,” he said. “And probably one of the best goers I’ve ever met in my life.”
Last week Sandra Lawler’s sterling qualities were officially recognised when she was awarded the NSW Ambulance Service Commendation for Courage – an award given out to those who ‘placed themselves at substantial risk of injury and displayed courage of the highest order’.
Sandra’s testing time came in May 2009, when it began to rain and didn’t stop and when Phillip was away helping family in Ballina.
Torrential rain meant that very soon Sandra and the boys were flooded in, but the problem was that baby Sam was sick and not getting any better.
“By the fourth day it was getting quite scary,” said Sandra.
“He was all clogged up, couldn’t breathe, choking, with thick green stuff coming out, and he was getting weaker, very lethargic.
“I rang the hospital and they said to bring him in, but I said I can’t.”
After four days of rain, rapidly flowing floodwaters and gale-force winds made conditions atrocious – conditions that repelled first road ambulance crews, then the SES flood boat, and finally the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.
It was at this point that Sandra’s brother, Jason Campbell, turned up to check on the family, and it was then that Sandra made the momentous decision.
“I decided to walk out,” she said.
Jason took baby Sam, and Sandra ‘dragged and pulled’ two-year-old Ben up one of the steepest ridges in the valley.
They slid and scrambled their way through the day which then turned to night in torrential rain, icy cold, and tormented by ‘heaps’ of leeches, one of which attached itself to little Ben’s eyelid.
“About half-way I got distressed, running out of energy,” recalled Sandra, hardly surprising for anyone undergoing such an ordeal, let alone for a sufferer of transverse myelitis, a condition that Sandra likens to MS.
“Eight or so years ago Sandra spent nine months in PA in Brisbane, learning to walk again,” Phil said.
“Some mornings she gets out of bed and just crashes, because her legs don’t work.”
Yet when it came to saving her children, Sandra was able to keep going in the treacherous conditions for almost three hours, right up to the wonderful moment when she spotted the ambulance in the distance and began yelling out.
Young Ben had strife with a leech, and also with a stick that poked him in the eye, but despite having to be dragged through a nightmare, he is remarkably unscathed by it all.
“The ambulance did come and get us,” he said
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