“It’s a miracle that I’m alive”

Lariza James (26) says she owes her life to Rocket HEMS, after she was involved in a terrible accident earlier this year.

Lariza, from Orania, was stationary at a Stop street on the morning of 22 February. “When I wanted to cross the road, a truck came from the right hand side, at high speed, and slammed into me.”

She can’t remember much more after that, but says her body went into complete shock. “I was blind. I couldn’t’ move my legs.”

Says she would have died without air ambulance

Lariza, a sport scientist, says she had to be cut from the vehicle. “There were people on the scene, I think, within three minutes. I couldn’t be transported with a normal ambulance and if it wasn’t for Rocket who flew me to hospital, I would have died.”

Warren van der Weide, base manager for Rocket in Kimberley, was the pilot on the day of the accident. Tom Watson and Chris Steward, paramedics for Rocket HEMS, assisted by Nico Stapelberg, intermediate life support, who stabilised Lariza in Orania on the ground.

Saved some time on the scene

“He did a great job,” says Tom, who explains it’s not a case of loading the patient in the helicopter and flying. “When we land, we keep the helicopter running for 10 minutes, to first see if the patients is ready to be loaded, before we switch off. We could load Lariza immediately and didn’t even turned off the helicopter. That saved us some time,” remembers Tom.

The first two days after the accident, she couldn’t move her legs, knees or feet. She only sat upright after three weeks.

Wanted to start sitting

“I begged the doctor to send me for physiotherapy so that I could learn to sit. I couldn’t lie down anymore. It was terrible, complete hell. It was a very traumatic experience.”

She broke her pelvis in four places and she suffered a head injury. She also had a few muscle tears.

“When I started to sit, three weeks after the accident, I threw up from the pain. It was so painful. I practiced every morning and every evening. Week four I started to stand, I just decided I will not give up.”

Lariza was initially told she will only be able to sit after week six but she was discharged from the hospital after five weeks. “At that stage, I could walk 50m with a walking ring and I could sit upright for 15-20 minutes.”

She didn’t give up and exercised every day. After three weeks, she could walk with crutches. “I went to an orthopaedic surgeon and he told me there was still a break which hasn’t completely healed. It might take up to two years to heal completely.”

Lariza visited the Rocket HEMS base in Kimberley on Friday to say thank you in person.

“The whole community of Orania, as well as Rocket, has done so much for me. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Rocket HEMS air ambulance landing on the scene.
Lariza had to be cut from the car.
Lariza being loaded into the Rocket HEMS air ambulance in Orania, to fly her to Kimberley.
Tom Watson, paramedic for Rocket HEMS and Nico Stapelberg, intermediate life support for Rocket HEMS, on the scene.
Lariza on her road to recovery.
Tom Watson (left), paramedic for Rocket HEMS, Lariza and Nico Stapelberg, intermediate life support for Rocket HEMS, on Friday when Lariza visited the Kimberley base.

We wish Lariza healing and a prosperous life going forward. To keep going and dealing with what she had to do every day after the accident, takes a very strong person. We salute you, Lariza and stories like yours make our jobs worth every second. – The Rocket HEMS team