For 27-year-old stockwoman Lydia Inglis, it has been a long journey to recovery since a mustering accident almost claimed her life a year ago in Western Australia’s north west.
- Lydia Inglis received a brain injury after falling off her horse in a mustering accident in the Pilbara
- The stockwoman credits her survival to the strong safety culture at Yarrie Station
- After a year of physiotherapy and speech therapy, she hopes to get back to riding next year
Since waking up from an induced coma last August, her days have been filled with physiotherapy and speech therapy appointments — learning to walk and talk again with the support of her family and partner in Otago, New Zealand.
It is a far cry from her life at Yarrie Station, mustering cattle on horseback in the remote Pilbara, 73 kilometres north-east of Marble Bar.
Ms Inglis said she would give anything to get back in the saddle again but, for now, she is just grateful to be alive and enjoying the simple things in life.
“When it was my 27th birthday, I woke up and looked up at the hills because I’ve got beautiful mountains around me in NZ,” she said.
“I thought to myself, I’m just so happy to be here … happy to be around my family, my friends.
The ‘freak’ accident and dramatic rescue
It has taken many months for the inspiring young stockwoman to come to terms with the ‘freak’ accident that caused her brain injury.
“As the horse’s head came up, I must have fallen forward and our heads collided,” Ms Inglis said.
“I just happened to have a helicopter up above me and he said I just fell like a jellybean from the horse.
“I fell down a six-foot rocky bank and it was from that fall that I got additional superficial brain bleeds.”
Ms Inglis has no memory of the moment she fell off her horse or the days that followed but the story of her dramatic rescue is one her colleagues will never forget.
While they quickly set to work applying CPR and first aid, pastoralist Annabelle Coppin flew a helicopter to a neighbouring town and mine site to fetch medical assistance.
Six hours later, Ms Inglis was put into an induced coma at South Hedland Hospital before being transferred by the Royal Flying Doctor Service to an intensive care unit in Perth.
After waking up, she spent the next two months at the traumatic brain injury ward at Fiona Stanley Hospital, where she responded well to rehabilitation and speech therapy.
A long road to recovery
But three months into her therapy, Ms Inglis came to the upsetting realisation it was not going to be a quick road to recovery.
“I had a very important conversation with my therapist after telling her I wanted to go back to work in six months,” she said.
“She was the one who broke it to me … it’s going to be more like 18 months before you get back to work [but] I believe that you’ll get back to work and you’ll make a full recovery.
The northern pastoral community rallied behind Ms Inglis, with more than $16,000 raised by friends and family to cover travel and quarantine costs for her mum to fly across from New Zealand and support her through recovery.
But ultimately, she credits the quick thinking of her team and the strong safety culture at Yarrie Station for saving her life.
“If I wasn’t wearing a helmet those subsequent brain bleeds could have been detrimental.”
Station safety is paramount
Ms Coppin said the decision to make helmets compulsory on the station had only been made weeks before the accident.
“That was a pretty big move for us; there are lots of arguments for and against them,” she said.
“However, given the situation we were in, I’m very glad that we did implement them … and we’ll be sticking to that.”
Ms Coppin says when it comes to working on a remote property, having a comprehensive safety plan and training in place is essential.
“It could be a bit of a stereotype out there that we’re all a bunch of cowboys who don’t care about safety,” she said.
“Everyone was shaken by the accident, including myself, and we’re just very thankful that she’s OK and that she’s going to recover.”
Living with a brain injury
A year on from her brain injury, Ms Inglis has built her strength up enough to work remotely for Yarrie Station doing a few hours a week record keeping.
But physically, she still struggles with weakness in her right side, fatigue, and speech difficulties.
“There are definitely days where I’m frustrated and annoyed at the fact that I’m not doing the things I used to be doing,” Ms Inglis said.
“My mum and [partner] Paudi have moved mountains for me … and Annabelle is so supportive of me as I go through this journey.”
‘It’s the small things in life’
It continues to be the small things in life — like getting back to work, regaining the ability to exercise, drive, and even sing — that keep Lydia Inglis hopeful of a return to station life.
“Physically, I just want to prove to myself that I can be a stockwoman again but also mentally as well,” she said.
“It was my goal that by next summer I’ll be doing a few tricks around home here in New Zealand and getting myself ready for doing a muster back at the station.
“I still hope to get back to Yarrie next year but I’ve learned to be flexible with timelines and expectations.
“But if there is one thing that a near-death experience has taught me, is that relationships and experiences that you share with people are what matters most.
“Everything else is just a bonus.”