Out of Nowhere – A Life Changed On An African Safari

Walking through the Tsitsingombe River Valley in Zimbabwe, Global Rescue member Angie Heister had no idea her life was about to dramatically change.

Angie Heister and her husband Robert

Angie and her husband were ten days into their trip when a male Cape buffalo emerged from behind a ziziphus bush and rushed the couple. The bull hit Robert first, knocking him over. Angie was next.

“It was about four seconds from the time I saw the animal until it gored me,” Angie said.

The buffalo knocked Robert unconscious before goring and throwing Angie.

“I couldn’t move my legs and I was having trouble breathing,” Angie said. “A professional hunter came over to assess the situation and he and the guide saw that I couldn’t walk. We didn’t know it at the time, but my spine was dislocated, my ribs were broken and my lungs had collapsed.”

With a gaping wound on her left side, the guide attempted to stanch Angie’s bleeding before bringing her to the nearest suitable helicopter landing where he called Global Rescue.

A helicopter arrived within an hour, transporting Angie to a Victoria Falls facility where she was assessed and stabilized. With no sensation in her lower extremities, Angie had also lost a life-threatening amount of blood.

Consulting with Angie’s attending physician, Global Rescue physicians recommended she be transported immediately to South Africa.

Global Rescue then medically evacuated Angie to a world-class trauma center in Johannesburg, where she was evaluated by neuro and trauma surgeons, also dispatching paramedics to oversee her care.

“Global Rescue sent two of their paramedics to assess my situation,” Angie said. “My husband said several times that it was a tremendous help to have the Global Rescue team there to say, ‘we’re checking everything they’re doing and they’re doing the right thing.’”

Requiring emergency surgery to fuse the vertebrae in her spine, the attack left Angie’s spinal cord severely bruised and her lower extremities paralyzed for an unknown period of time.

As her rehab progressed, the Global Rescue team worked closely with the Heister’s to explore options for rehabilitation at home in Dallas, Texas.

“Global Rescue started the conversation about where to take me when I got home,” Angie said.  “I didn’t know anything about rehab centers. At this point, I didn’t realize that I would be paralyzed for the rest of my life. My thinking was, I had the surgery and the doctor said I’ve got to give it six months. I thought I would start working on learning how to live like that, just in case.”

While reviewing rehab centers in the suburbs of Dallas, Global Rescue recommended Baylor as a top choice for the Heister’s.

“So much of the advice we received from Global Rescue was critical because at the time, we didn’t know anything,” Angie said.

Global Rescue also began discussions on how to get Angie home.

“There were countless logistics that Global Rescue handled that we would never have considered – what type of aircraft, ideal countries to refuel in, on and on,” Angie said. “The medical oversight by Global Rescue was fantastic.”

After moving to the rehab unit in Johannesburg, a third Global Rescue paramedic arrived at Angie’s side before she was evacuated home.

“I can’t even imagine had it been just my husband and me trying to get home,” Angie said.

After nearly six weeks in rehab, Angie was discharged.

“The first six months were pure hell,” Angie said. “We had our bathroom remodeled because I couldn’t get in the shower. At first, I had to have 24-hour support with a caregiver. Gradually, I got stronger and started with two hours all by myself. Finally, we let the caregiver go and I was ok to be by myself in the house.”

Angie and Robert in 2019

Looking Ahead
Angie maintains a positive outlook on life, despite remaining paralyzed. Her determination brought enjoyment back to traveling and her independence inspired her to help others cope with transitioning to life in a wheelchair.

“I took classes so I could drive again and bought a van modified with a ramp and hand controls,” Angie said. “It was like learning to drive again but I was terrified. Now I drive places every day by myself and on the highway. If my husband is out of town I’m ok in the house by myself, even during the night.”

Angie’s Advice
“I’m so thankful we had a Global Rescue membership before we traveled,” Angie said. “My husband had been to Africa twice before and wanted to share it with me. I’m the non-adventurous type and I insisted we get memberships. Never in a thousand years did it occur to me that I would be the one who needed help from Global Rescue. I’m guessing it would have cost between $100,000 and $300,000 to get me home had we not been Global Rescue members.”

“Any time friends are traveling anywhere, I tell them they must get a Global Rescue membership.   People don’t understand that travel insurance is different from having Global Rescue personnel come to personally take care of you and bring you home.”

  • If you’re traveling to an area that’s not well developed, do some research to understand what hospitals and services there are in the area. Are they similar to the U.S. where you are treated and then you pay, or do you have to pay before they admit you?
  • Find out if your health insurance works where you are traveling and determine whether or not you should purchase a special health insurance policy.
  • Carry a satellite phone and extra batteries.
  • Have a Global Rescue membership.

Global Rescue is the premier partner of Safari Club International and offers benefits exclusive to SCI members. Click here to learn more about Global Rescue.

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