No matter what life throws at Harriet Davis, she won’t be beaten.
Watching her sink goals on the netball court with one arm in a sling, you’d think she’d spent her whole life playing with just one hand.
But this only became Harriet’s reality six weeks ago, in one cruel, split second twist of fate.
“I was just thinking, ‘What’s going to happen to me? Am I going to die?’” Harriet told A Current Affair.
“It was the worst moment of my life,” her father, Stuart, said.
It was a sunny afternoon on the Nepean River in Western Sydney. Harriet and her twin sister, Audrey, were enjoying an afternoon of tubing behind the family boat with their father Stuart. A seasoned police officer, nothing could have prepared him for the moment he would need to save his own daughter’s life.
“I’ve been in the police for 25 years and seen a number of things and you become conditioned,” Stuart said.
“When it’s your own child – you can only imagine.”
Stuart was cruising upstream, while Harriet was keeping hold of the sea biscuit stowed between the motor and the boat.
“I started holding it and it kind of started tugging and we were only going like 10km per hour and he said, ‘Is it getting heavy?’ and I said, ‘No’, but I should have said, ‘Yes’,” Harriet said.
A strong gust of wind flipped the biscuit, pulling Harriet into the water.
“It’s kind of like you get dunked at a beach,” she said, “It just pulled me straight under.”
On impact, the rope severed Harriet’s wrist.
“I started seeing blood trails – like, what’s happening?” she said, adding that she started swimming back to the boat.
“I screamed out, ‘Dad, help!’,” she said.
“I’m like, ‘Dad, come on, help! It’s urgent’.”
Stuart reached in the water to pull his daughter out.
“I’ve pulled her out by her right hand, and as I’ve done that, I’ve noticed the injury – her left hand was missing,” he said.
“It was the worst moment in my life, to be honest.”
For his 12-year-old girl, just a few words define that moment.
“I said, “Dad, am I going to die?’ He said, “No sweetie, but your life is going to change forever,” Harriet explained, adding that those words play through her mind every day.
Fearing his daughter could bleed to death, Stuart’s panic turned to desperation.
“I then tried to restart the boat and the boat wouldn’t restart, so we were stranded out in the water… I didn’t know how first responders were going to get to us.”
Stuart couldn’t have been more relieved when two jet skiers appeared. One of them, Chris Harvey, said he knew he had to bite the bullet.
“Triple 0 didn’t want us to go back – they wanted us to wait – but I said, “No, no, let’s just go back’, ’cause we were a long way down the river,” Chris said.
With her severed arm, Harriet sat behind Chris as he delicately drove her back to shore. All the while, her twin sister Audrey remained stranded on the boat with their father.
“I just thought she was going to die, and on the boat when I saw that, I just thought it was a dream,” Audrey said.
Careflight doctor Sarah Tyrell was waiting back at the boat ramp to treat Harriet and rush her to hospital.
“It was very important to make sure we got a tourniquet on nice and early to make sure there wasn’t too much blood loss,” Dr Tyrell said, adding that Harriet was the bravest patient she’d ever had.
Forty minutes later, Stuart and Audrey were towed back to land. Then, Stuart made the harrowing phone call to the girls’ mother, Belinda.
“He said, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, we’ve had an accident and Harriet’s lost her arm’,” Belinda explained.
“I didn’t obviously comprehend.”
Rushing to her daughter’s side, Belinda knew there was only a two-hour window to find Harriet’s hand and get it to hospital, in the hope of having it re-attached.
“I said to Stuart, ‘Please just find my little girls’ hand.’ For me as a mother, I couldn’t imagine her not having a hand growing up.”
With Harriet safely in hospital, it wasn’t over on the river. Two police boats, six divers, SES volunteers, and locals searched the water for hours, desperate to find Harriet’s hand.
“If there was some attempt of re-attaching it, we know with certainty that every effort was tried,” Stuart said.
It’s the only time Harriet’s cried – when doctors confirmed she’d lost her dominant hand forever.
“I just wanted to go back to normal, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen,” she said, adding that nobody else was allowed to cry while she was in hospital.
“I wanted to stay strong and, when people were crying, it brought me down.”
Harriet has received her first prosthesis – a ‘netball hand’ – as she works with her occupational therapist, fin- tuning her new life.
“There’s like a hard-shell kind of thing, and then you can screw on attachments at the end,” Harriet explained.
Harriet has returned to the Nepean River – and in true Harriet style she was straight back out there, and for the first time, unafraid to have her arm out for everyone to see.
“My message is, ‘Don’t take life for granted’. Live it how you want to live it and just be who you are,” she said.
© Nine Digital Pty Ltd 2018