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Father calls for safety rethink following long wait for daughter’s first-aid

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Two teams standing on opposite sides of the oval on Yirrkala final day.

A father who spent more than half an hour waiting for first aid for his convulsing, injured daughter is calling for a rethink of safety at remote sporting matches.

Chris McSherry attended his daughter’s under 16s grand final football match in Yirrkala at the weekend — one of many sporting leagues that bring competition and colour to remote communities around the Northern Territory.

But the match was briefly halted in the third quarter when a player unexpectedly kicked the ball in the direction of Mr McSherry’s daughter, Lea.

“My daughter sort of half-braced herself and she copped the ball fair in the back of the head,” Mr McSherry told ABC Radio Darwin.

“She stood for a few seconds and fell to the ground and started convulsing.

“There was no ambulance, there was no first-aid, there was no-one at hand.

“I was very lucky that there happened to be a nurse at the field watching that day who was able to help me comfort my daughter until the ambulances arrived.”

Mr McSherry initially suspected his daughter sustained a neck injury, and said he began to fear the worst.

She was carried off the field so the game could continue, but Mr McSherry said given the injury was unknown, he believed Lea shouldn’t have been moved without proper medical expertise.

He estimated he waited another 30 minutes before an ambulance was able to arrive at the remote Indigenous community, which is about a 15-minute drive from the nearest hospital in the coastal mining town of Nhulunbuy.

“That would have to be the most difficult part of the whole experience, is feeling absolutely helpless,” he said.

“She was uncontrollably twitching and things like that. She couldn’t open her eyes. She couldn’t speak.”

Mr McSherry said he was grateful for the work of paramedics and Careflight, who transported his daughter to Nhulunbuy and flew her to Darwin, where she made a recovery.

But he called for a rethink of safety procedures on the field.

“My aim for the whole thing is to not point fingers, but to hopefully change whatever procedures [we] went through so that something like what happened to me and my wife won’t happen again,” he said.

Player welfare ‘provided by the club’

AFLNT’s Remote Projects Manager Cassidy Fitzclarence said he was sympathetic to Mr McSherry, but cautioned remote areas had to make strategic decisions about the limited resources at their disposal.

“It’s a horrible thing for anybody to go through — especially a parent — but there’s only so many resources [local health services have] got available,” he said.

“It is quite a hard thing to expect that to be available at one single sporting event, especially when you’ve got a lot of different sports going on over one weekend, where there’s only one ambulance vehicle in an area like Gove.”

Mr Fitzclarence said risk mitigation strategies would be reviewed following the event, but was unable to say with certainty whether clubs had their own sports medics.

“The rules and regulations for the NTFL in Darwin is that the player welfare is actually provided by the club,” he said.

“I’m certainly saying that absolutely that’s got to be looked at, but that’s where clubs come in and their sports medics are there.

“Certainly with things like ambulances, no matter where the incident takes place, it’s still a phone call to the ambulance and they have to come to the ground.”

St John Ambulance operations manager Craig Garraway said current staffing arrangements met the needs of the community and medical assistance could have been provided if they had been asked for it.

“Obviously if they had requested paramedics, it would’ve impacted on our ability to resource the town, but we would’ve had, probably, enough people there to do it,” he said.

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