With 30 people hospitalised for every one death on Australian roads, the true cost of road trauma is far greater than what is reflected in death toll figures.
Queensland mother Anita Camilleri and her three-year-old daughter Aylah know this all too well — 10 months on from a road collision that saw them hospitalised, their whole family is still dealing with the trauma.
From the moment she saw a ute coming towards her vehicle, Mrs Camilleri knew there was going to be crash, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
All she could think about was her daughter Aylah, who was two at the time of the collision at Pleystowe, west of Mackay in north Queensland, last October.
“I knew straight away I was injured and so was my daughter,” she said.
“The first man who came to our aid, Peter, I begged him to get Aylah out of the car as it was catching fire.
“Aylah was rushed to hospital without me because she started vomiting, which meant something was seriously wrong.
“I had to wait for a second ambulance to take me to hospital.
“But my condition deteriorated so quickly that a police officer had to drive the ambulance so that the paramedics could continue to work on me.”
Mrs Camilleri said that the hours after the crash were a blur, but she clearly remembered the anguish of hearing her daughter cry out for her in the emergency department of the Mackay Base Hospital.
“The worst part of it was she was in the room next to me and I could hear her screaming and screaming for me and I couldn’t do anything about it,” Mrs Camilleri said.
A family split
Aylah suffered a bleed at the back of her brain and was flown to the specialist paediatric unit in Townsville in a coma.
Mrs Camilleri was supposed to join her daughter in Townsville, but her condition deteriorated so quickly doctors were forced to operate immediately.
That meant her husband, Luke, and their son, Seth, went to Townsville to be with Aylah, while Mrs Camilleri remained in Mackay, supported by her parents and sister.
“It was heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking to not be there with my daughter to help her recover,” Mrs Camilleri said.
“To not have my family by my side.
“But my son is a type one diabetic and he needed to be with his dad so that his condition could be managed as well.”
The ongoing cost
Mrs Camilleri still attends multiple weekly rehabilitation sessions to help her recover from the significant injuries she suffered in the crash.
They include internal injuries to her intestines, bowel, lungs and fractures to her neck and spine.
“I’ve had a number of operations, most recently on my ankle and I have constant pain in my back,” she said.
“For the first eight months we had a nanny to be able to help me with the kids and daily activities.
“Even now I still have BlueCare coming in twice a week to help me with things around the house.”
The real cost of road trauma
According to the Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety Queensland (CARRS-Q), the number of people killed on the roads does not provide a true reflection of the impact of road trauma.
Research shows that for every one death on the road, 30 people are hospitalised.
Professor Narelle Howarth from CARRS-Q said authorities need to stop focussing on the road toll, and look more broadly.
“Fatalities are just the tip of the iceberg and hide the true magnitude and nature of road trauma,” she said.
The human and economic impact of serious injury is much greater and more widespread than that of fatalities.
Between 50,000 and 60,000 people are seriously injured each year in crashes in Australia.
The ripple effect
While Anita and Aylah were the ones injured in the crash, the effects of trauma have been felt by the whole family.
“Seth didn’t want to go to school because something might happen if he wasn’t here to protect me,” Mrs Camilleri said.
“He also had struggles after the crash, which we had to help him through with a psychologist.”
Mrs Camilleri said that Aylah would often wake from night terrors in the months after the crash, while she would replay the impact of the crash over and over in her head.
“We do talk about it because they see the impact is has on me daily,” she said.
“They see how much pain and suffering I’m in every day.”
Mrs Camilleri said not being able to run and play with her children is the most difficult thing to come to terms with.
“My day is depressing … I shouldn’t say that, but it is,” she said.
“I should be out there playing with my kids, but I can no longer run and play with them.
“I have to find alternative ways to play because I can’t sit or stand for too long.”
The invisible struggle
Mrs Camilleri said that people often do not understand the extent of the ongoing impact on her life.
“When people see me they think, ‘She’s doing okay because she hasn’t got crutches anymore’,” she said.
“But they don’t see the struggles behind closed doors, that I can’t get out and play with my kids.
“When people ask if I’m okay, I just say I’m doing good … I’m getting there.”
‘I want life to go back to normal’
Mrs Camilleri said Aylah still has regular paediatric appointments to check for any ongoing issues after the crash.
She said thankfully the prognosis is good, with the energic three-year-old unlikely to have any lasting side effects.
It is a different story for Mrs Camilleri though, who is facing further rehabilitation and possibly more surgery.
But she said she remains positive about the future.
“I’m a very positive person and very strong-willed and I won’t let anything get in my way,” Mrs Camilleri said.
“I do see life going back to normal. I’m determined to get there.”
A victim’s plea
Mrs Camilleri said with the focus on Road Safety Week, she is urging people to be focussed on driving and the road every time they get behind the wheel.
“Don’t touch your mobile phone, they are the worst things when you are driving,” she said.
“It’s not just us that this has affected — it’s our family and friends, the school trying to help Seth, it’s a huge ripple effect.”
Mrs Camilleri said that if people saw the impact of road trauma it could change the way they drive.
“You don’t see what happens after the crash, you just know that people got hurt,” she said.
“They don’t know the long recovery and the things we have to go through to get life back to normal.”