Honoured for a lifetime of service

Posted: 5am 13 Jun 2022

A former Aeromedical and Road Retrieval Nurse who was the manager of the Metro South Area Health Service and served as the president of the College of Emergency Nursing Australasia has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Bongaree’s Therese Lee is one of six Moreton Bay Region residents to be recognised in this year’s list, joining Margate’s Charles Haswell and Deirdre McNeil, the late Matt McCracken of Morayfield, Mount Samson’s Pam McGahey and Albany Creek’s Michael Hornby in receiving an OAM.

Ms Lee was awarded her Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for her service to nursing and says the honour is also recognition of the work of the teams she’s been a part of.

“Anything I have achieved has always been with a whole lot of other people,” she says.

“I have worked with fantastic people.”

All in the family

Ms Lee says she was destined for a life of service.

“My mother was a nurse, and her mother was a teacher, so I was always going to be one or the other,” she laughs.

“Funnily enough, going nursing also allowed me to do teaching.”

She began her career as a trainee at the Royal Brisbane Hospital before nursing in England for a year.

When she came back, Ms Lee worked in a variety of areas, including surgical wards and oncology before returning to emergency nursing.

It was there she became involved in retrievals from roadside accidents, graduating to helicopter and fixed wing rescue, later spending five years in charge of the Emergency Department at Nambour Hospital.

“It was great because I was working with people I had worked with before.

The importance of planning

“Then I went to the Department of Health and I met Trevor (Barnes) – he was brought up from NSW to write the Disaster Plan for Queensland Health.”

Ms Lee was also involved in developing protocols for Y2K – the plans for which didn’t need to be used when the predicted technology chaos associated with clicking over from the year 1999 to 2000 didn’t eventuate.

“Then when 9-11 (four co-ordinated terrorist attacks in America on September 2001) happened there was a big focus on terrorism and we pulled out all the Y2K plans that showed what to do if we lost power and those sorts of things.”

Her career has seen Ms Lee involved in mass crowd planning for events such as soccer games played in Brisbane during the 2000 Olympics, the Goodwill Games and the 2002 Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting, as well as receiving patients after the first Bali Bombings.

A flying evolution

A founding member of Flight Nurses Australia, Ms Lee says much has changed since she began flying to rescue sites.

“When we used to do our retrievals, there’d be the pilot in the helicopter and you sat in the back.

“Then one day, there was a crewman and he said ‘I’m going to give you a safety briefing’.

“You don’t know what you don’t know – we had always just assumed everything would be ok – you’re just focussed on what you’re doing.”

A time for teaching

Ms Lee has been the co-ordinator of the Early Management of Severe Trauma Course for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons since 2005, and also delivered Queensland Health’s Pre-Hospital Trauma Course in regional areas.

“We used to go around the state teaching it because people in those areas didn’t often see big trauma, but when they did, it was big.”

Ms Lee says there have been many memorable moments in her career, including being on the ground in Banda Aceh in Sumatra in the wake of the 2004 tsunami which claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people.

“It has always been a privilege to look after people who are in a terrible situation,” she says.

“I remember one Christmas an old lady came in and she had had a heart attack at church and she died in the Emergency Department.”

It fell to Ms Lee to deliver the sad news to her family, including two grandchildren.

“I will always remember going in to them and the kids were crying and the mum said ‘What a lovely Christmas gift for Grandad in Heaven’.”

Keeping the news under wraps

Ms Lee says she’s humbled by her Queen’s Birthday honour and struggled to keep the secret from her Mum, because recipients are given strict instructions not to share the news before it’s officially announced.

“I am really proud to receive it, but I have always though it’s been a privilege to look after people and all of those things I have talked about have been achieved by a team of people of which I am only one.”

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