Survival

A Propeller Sliced Through My Girl’s Skull

A day on the water left brave Izzy fighting for life
  • Jane Hoffman, 54, from Narrabeen, NSW, was at work when she heard the news her daughter Izzy had been in an accident.
  • After going paddle boarding with friends on Narrabeen Lake, the kids had taken the tinnie out for a spin.
  • But after a terrible accident, doctors 3D printed Izzy a new acrylic skull.

Here Jane tells her story in her own words

Leaving for work, I gave my girl Izzy, 15, a kiss.

It was the September school holidays, and she was spending the day at her friend’s house.

They’d planned to go paddleboarding with mates on Narrabeen Lake on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

‘Have fun, love,’ I called out before shutting the door.

Sitting at my desk five hours later, my phone buzzed, the name of a school mum flashing on the screen.

‘There’s been an accident. Izzy has fallen out of the boat!’ she said, frantically.

‘What boat?’ I asked confused.

‘She’s fallen out of the boat and cut her head, but it’s okay an ambulance has been called,’ the woman said.

Feeling my tummy twist into knots, my only thought was that I had to get to Izzy’s side as soon as possible.

In shock, I called my husband Matt, 50.

‘There’s been an accident. Izzy fell off a boat,’ I stumbled through tears.

‘There’s been an accident. Izzy has fallen out of the boat!’

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Izzy was enjoying the school holidays (Credit: Supplied)

Jumping in the car, I raced towards Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick.

Panicked, I couldn’t think straight to drive, so I pulled over and jumped into a taxi.

Arriving at the hospital before me, Matt was told by the hospital staff that they weren’t expecting Izzy.

She’d been taken to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, so we rushed there separately.

Coming up the hospital driveway, I watched from the car as the CareFlight helicopter carrying Izzy landed.

As I ran into Emergency, I saw my Izzy, unconscious on a stretcher.

Matt and I waited by her side for updates.

‘Izzy was struck by a propeller on the left side of her head, we put her in a coma to stabilise her head injury.

She’s in good hands,’ a paramedic who introduced himself as Lee, said calmly.

As my girl was wheeled away for CT scans, my brain went into overdrive.

‘Everything is going to be okay,’ Matt reassured me, pulling me in for a hug.

Scans showed that Izzy had a broken eye socket and a depressed fracture on her skull, causing a bleed on her brain.

She had a 10-centimetre laceration from her eyebrow down the side of her face, another across the back of her head and a 30-centimetre laceration from her left ear around the top of her head.

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Docs spent five and a half hours saving Izzy’s life (Credit: Supplied)

In Emergency, I gave her one last kiss, then she was taken into theatre.

Anxiously waiting for more information, I called the school mum who’d broken the news earlier.

Izzy was supposed to be paddleboarding. Why was she on a boat?

The woman told me that, after going paddleboarding as planned, the kids had decided to take out the tinnie.

Then, the boat had taken a turn too quickly.

‘Izzy fell into the water, and the boat ran right over the top of her,’ she said.

The propeller had sliced through Izzy’s skull.

Now, our girl’s uphill battle had only just begun.

In theatre for five and a half hours, surgeons removed a third of her skull. So pulverised, it’d later need to be replaced with new ‘skull’ made from 3D printed acrylic.

And she had a brain injury.

‘We can’t be sure if Izzy will be able to talk again or see from her left eye. She may not recognise you. We have to wait and see,’ the doctor told us gently.

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Izzy recovering after surgery (Credit: Supplied)

‘That’s our Izzy, she’s still in there!’

It was heartbreaking. The Izzy we knew and loved may be lost forever, but we tried to keep positive.

Breaking the news to Izzy’s big sister, Rebecca, 17, was devastating too.

‘Is she going to be okay?’ Rebecca asked through tears.

After an agonising wait, two days later, Izzy was woken from an induced coma. Her beautiful brunette locks had been shaved off.

Confused and incredibly frightened, Izzy began trying to move and talk.

‘You’ve been in an accident. I know it hurts, but you will get better,’ I told her, thrilled she’d even opened her eyes.

Within a few days, Izzy was able to stand unassisted and say words.

Feeling frustrated by her inability to speak in sentences, she motioned for a pen and paper and was able to write scribbled messages.

I love you, she wrote.

‘That’s our Izzy, she’s still in there!’ I said to Matt, tears running down my face.

Working with a speech therapist in hospital, within weeks Izzy was speaking in sentences again.

Doctors were shocked at how quickly she was recovering.

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Izzy was able to write scribbled messages (Credit: Supplied)

‘Izzy is weeks ahead of where we thought she would be,’ her surgeon said.

After a month in hospital, and tiring rehab sessions, our brave girl came home.

Returning to hospital one month on, Izzy had her 3D skull inserted.

After that, she picked out a blonde wig and was ready to return to school.

‘Surprise, I’m blonde!’ Izzy giggled, showing off her new ’do to her sister.

Now, not even six months since the accident, Izzy has already settled back into her normal life.

Although she has a severe brain injury, which still affects her speech, the sky is the limit for our brave girl.

Izzy has recently returned to her part-time job at the local bakery.

And she’s even playing netball again!

Her hair has regrown over her scars, as well.

Looking back on the day our world was turned upside down, we feared our lives would never be the same.

I’m so proud of my girl – she’s come so far.

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We’re so proud of our Izzy

Izzy, 15 says:

The last thing I properly remember, I was stand-up paddleboarding with some friends.

From then on, it’s all a blur.

Going in and out of consciousness, I wasn’t strong enough to open my eyes but I could hear my friends scream.

‘Where am I?’ I tried to ask but couldn’t form the words.

Hearing stories from the day of my accident, I know that I’m lucky to be alive.

Learning to walk and talk again was one of the hardest parts of my recovery, but ditching my wheelchair after two weeks gave me confidence that all my hard work was paying off.

I still have a long way to go but I’m so proud of how far I’ve come!

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