You were born in Germany and lived in Switzerland for many years, before setting off on your work related travels round the world, where do you call home?
When your living most of your life as an expat, home is where the heart is. It is where you are grounded and happy and I am happy in Botswana and so Botswana is my home.
When did you know you wanted to be a doctor?
From childhood onwards, I always loved playing doctors and helping people, in a way there was no other option for me: it was like a calling.
At what stage in your medical career did you turn to emergency medicine and what attracted you to it?
Long before I studied medicine, I was at a party and the guy next to me suffered a heart attack and he died on the spot. I tried to resuscitate him but I was only 14 and didn’t really know what I was doing. It was at that moment that I knew that I wanted to be able to cope with any emergency.
Emergency medicine has led you to work in war areas and disaster zones around the world, when and why did this become your passion?
I was mostly working for the international Red Cross, which is based in Switzerland. It has a reputation of taking on the elite and this is very attractive, especially for emergency doctors. Once I had finished my specialisation I was given the opportunity to work for them and I never regretted it.
I did emergency missions nearly every year. It was very challenging as the International Red Cross mostly works in war zones, but once you are settled and you have a family it's possibly not the best place to work. When I met Christian my husband, I stopped because you have to make a commitment to either family or to a project and I made a commitment to family.
"Being a doctor and helping people: it was like a calling"
When was your first visit to Africa and was it love at first sight?
It was that bug that they say you get in Africa and it got me fully.
What drew you to settle down in Botswana rather than travelling the world? And why Botswana of all the African countries?
When I met Christian, it was about 7 years ago, he was living in the UAE and I was living in Switzerland. As we were getting older and we wanted to spend time together, so we were looking for a country where we could build something new. Botswana was the answer.
What inspired you to start the Okavango Air Rescue?
When we first came here and people heard that I had done emergency medicine, I was approached with several emergencies and I very quickly realised that there is a significant need for a new emergency rescue system. The Okavango Delta transport to and from camps is done mostly by plane. When the Delta floods, even some airstrips become inaccessible, so a helicopter is essentially the only way to get injured people out quickly.
How have you adapted your operation from the Rega system and how does it differ?
About 60 years ago, Rega was being set up as a rescue service to the pristine ski areas of Switzerland. They saw that the quickest and most efficient way to get injured people down from the mountain was by helicopter. They approached the government for funding but were turned down as it was viewed as a luxury and so they invented the patronage system in order to fund the rescue operations. As a Patron you donate a small amount of money for a year and if you do not need the help, the money belongs to the company, but if you do have an emergency then you will be rescued for free by the Rega. We have adopted this system and adapted it to Botswana. It works well in small countries such as Switzerland and Botswana and after three years of operation we have managed to bring the company into “black” figures.
It’s a small donation to be given for a pretty amazing service if something does go wrong?
That is the beauty of it. The more people join, the more we can expand our service. It is also something that the country can be proud of. This was one of our goals. We are in our fifties, and we don’t have children, so it's our vision to get this project on its feet and up and running. It would be wonderful to make a difference to the country.
What is the most dangerous rescue operation you have undertaken whilst in the Okavango Air Rescue?
There was a plane crash where a marabou stork flew through the window and hit the pilot. They were very lucky because the passenger next to the pilot was able to land the aircraft. We were only alerted in the late afternoon so we flew in, stayed with them overnight - as it is too dangerous to fly at night - and flew out at first light the next morning. Due to the severity of the patient’s injuries, the situation was quite tricky and the most challenging one I have had so far in the Okavango Delta.
Are you always on call? If so how do you manage family life? Is working together the only way you could then have a family life?
It works very well, as we are both fully absorbed by the business and, Christian, my husband is a big support doing all the management and administrative side of things. For the company, I think we are a brilliant team and enjoy also working together. We do have the on-call telephone with us all the time: it’s totally integrated into our life. We are used to it and it keeps us young. There is nothing regular about our lives; and to us, this is the very best way to be.
What is it that you love about living in Africa the most?
I think there are three things that make it all work so well: the first is freedom; the second is that you can make a difference and the third is that we have managed to find a goal in life that works for both of us.
Your life must be very high pressure, fast-paced and unpredictable, how do you wind down from this?
We do have a little farm about 25km outside of Maun, on the banks of the Thamalakane River, where we have our horses, dogs and wildlife. For us, it is like coming home to the perfect environment. We both like to cook and have a steady stream of visitors, both, young and old, as well as local and international, who sit at our large dining table almost every evening. This brings us the most satisfying conversations and discussions about “God and the world”, often with the awesome sunsets over the river as a backdrop.