Maimed by a boat propeller and bleeding heavily, Sandy kept thinking about the predators lurking below.
Here, Sandy Laverty, 37, tells the story in her own words.
L￼ousing our two sleeping girls, I grabbed the esky with our picnic.
It was June last year and my hubby Brendon and I were taking Mia, eight, and Ava, seven, out on our small boat, while our older kids, Brayden, 16, and Shanae, 14, were hanging with friends.
It had been an early start. Our crab pots were set around the Cato River, which could only be accessed from a high-tide boat ramp. It meant we could only get onto the water at 4am and exit at 4pm.
‘A lot of salties out this morning,’ I said to Bren, noticing all the beady eyes glaring up at us.
It wasn’t unusual to spot crocs and sharks, but today there was an abundance.
As some of our family were also out on the water, the girls played with their aunts and uncles, and took turns steering.
After lunch, our crab pots were piled high, so I sat on top of the empty esky at the front of the boat.
It was around 3pm and with a 40-minute journey back to the ramp we decided it was time to head back. But as Bren took off, the crab pots shifted. Letting go of the motor, he reached out to catch them before they fell. As he did, the whole boat flung right.
Sliding on the esky, I was suddenly thrown from my seat. I gripped the railing, but I couldn’t hold on.
Screaming, I fell into the murky water. As I was sucked under the boat, I held my breath. But then I felt the propeller slash my back.Snagging my shirt, my body was spun around until everything stopped. From half a metre below the surface, I could hear Mia screech and see Bren frantically looking for me. I wanted to scream out and tell them where I was. But I was trapped – and in croc-infested water!
Just then, Bren jumped in and desperately tried to lift me out, not knowing I was wrapped around the blades.
‘Grab a knife,’ he yelled to Mia. But I knew it wasn’t just my shirt caught in the propeller – it was my back too!
Try not to panic, I told myself. You’re on your last bit of air.
Jumping back on the boat, Bren raised the propeller, with me attached to it.
Finally out of the water I took a deep breath – and that’s when the pain started. As Bren cut my shirt free, I felt my skin peel open as I fell back into the river. My lower body dangled in the brown water as I hung onto the railing.
With blood flowing into the river, I thought of all the predators we’d seen earlier. Lifting me out by my arms Bren tore off his shirt. ‘You’re okay love,’ he said, tying it around my waist to hold my wounds together. ‘You’ve got a little cut on your bum, you’ll be right.’
As the stabbing pain ripped down my back, I just focused on the girls.They need me, I thought. Whistling to our family on nearby, faster boats, Bren caught their attention. ‘I ran over Sandy,’ he said. ‘Go! Get the car ready.’
I desperately wanted to tell my girls Mummy would be okay, but as we sped off I couldn’t even open my eyes. It’s three hours to the nearest hospital, I panicked.
With everyone jumping into action, our boat was winched up the ramp and we made it back to the car. Every bump along the dirt road was agony and I was losing blood.
Meeting the ambulance about an hour out of town, we pulled over so I could be transferred into it. As they removed Bren’s shirt, warm blood instantly gushed down my leg.
An eerie silence came over the paramedics as they quickly wrapped me back up and hoisted me into the ambulance.
At the hospital, I was given more pain medication. ‘I know this is a bad time but did you want me to take a photo?’ a nurse said. ‘Of course!’ I replied, knowing I’d probably want to see it later. ‘Don’t show me now but I’ll get it off you.’
After two blood transfusions, CareFlight flew me to the Royal Darwin Hospital where I was greeted by over 40 medical staff. Rushed into theatre, I was prepped for skin grafting.I had nine broken ribs in multiple places, a broken collarbone, ruptured spleen, and a punctured and collapsed left lung.
After a month in hospital and seven operations I was finally allowed home.
It was 12 weeks before I could finally face that photo.
‘I look like a piece of lamb from the butcher,’ I said. ‘I am so sorry,’ Bren said, feeling guilty. But I didn’t blame him. It was just a terrible accident.
And four months after that, we were back on the boat. ‘There’s nothing to worry about,’ I told the girls. ‘I’m fine.’
At first, they were a bit nervous, but soon we were laughing and having fun.
Bearing scars down the left side of my back reminds me of just how lucky I was. I even run a coffee van, named Propellerz, after what happened.
‘Propellers take you places, they change your life,’ I tell people.
Life throws curve balls, but we can’t let them stop us from doing the things we love.
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