Emergency services on scene at Mount Christian, south of Mackay.
Emergency services on scene at Mount Christian, south of Mackay. RACQ CQ Rescue

Sarina woman soldiers on in wake of horrific train accident

A SARINA locomotive driver run over by a fully loaded train wagon still has not been able to return to work.

On May 27, 2017, Teleah Szepanowski was working with colleagues to repair railway lines at Mount Christian, about 70km south of Mackay, after Tropical Cyclone Debbie.

Ms Szepanowski, 23, was laying ballast on the section of track when she was hit by the train wagon.

"I was partially opening the doors of the ballast wagon for the other workers so it was easier for them to open," she said, recalling her version of events.

"The wagon which ran over me is similar to a cane train wagon but full of ballast or the rock which is laid on the track.

"I went straight into shock and I was in excruciating pain.

"All I wanted was my face to be covered so I couldn't see my leg as I knew it was really, really bad and that I would have completely lost it if I had seen it.

"The guys I was working with tried to pull me out from underneath the wagon, not knowing that the wheel of the wagon was actually on top of my thigh.

"They pulled the wagon off my leg with the train and sat me up.

"They used a belt to tourniquet my upper thigh and as we waited for the ambulance they continued to talk to me and keep me awake."

The scene of the accident pictured from the air, with traffic on the highway banked up
The scene of the accident pictured from the air, with traffic on the highway banked up RACQ CQ Rescue

The response included Queensland Ambulance Service paramedics; RACQ CQ Rescue crews, which included a critical care paramedic and doctor; the Queensland Police Service; and Queensland Fire and Emergency Service.

Ms Szepanowski had been screaming in agony, according to a helicopter crew member.

She said she remembered waking inside the helicopter, dazed and disoriented, with no idea what had occurred.

She had suffered extensive injuries, including a broken femur, tibia and fibula, and compounded fractures in the lower part of the legs.

She had also cracked a bone in her ankle and heel, and her foot had been degloved - an extensive section of skin had been torn away from the underlying tissue, muscles and veins has been damaged , and there were kilograms of skin, tissue and fat missing.

DEVASTATING: Teleah Szepanowski, 23, of Sarina, pictured in hospital.
DEVASTATING: Teleah Szepanowski, 23, of Sarina, pictured in hospital. RACQ CQ Rescue

In 17 days, she underwent seven surgeries.

Ms Szepanowski stayed in hospital for three months and has been back twice since.

One year later, she is still regularly seeing doctors and undergoing physio and occupational therapy, and has been unable to return to work.

"I am still unable to do a lot of the normal everyday things that I used to do," she said.

"I will have problems with my leg for pretty much the rest of my life.

Teleah Szepanowski has been undergoing physio and occupational therapy
Teleah Szepanowski has been undergoing physio and occupational therapy RACQ CQ Rescue

"My outlook on life has changed dramatically and I am always reminding myself that it could have been a lot, lot worse and that I'm extremely lucky that I didn't lose my leg and that the train was stopped when it did. Seconds later and I would have definitely died."

Ms Szepanowski hoped to raise awareness about the critical work undertaken by RACQ CQ Rescue, sure she would have lost her leg or worse without the service's speedy response.

RACQ CQ Rescue is currently running its annual appeal.

Visit cqrescue.org.au for more information


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