Carol smiling at the beach.

Carol's story

Date published

13 Jun 2024

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the RFDS."

Campsite on the beach.

For thirty years, Carol Michie has been camping at Coral Bay with family and friends. It’s a long standing tradition she treasures, and last year she and her husband Dave extended their holiday by a few days, heading 70 kays north to the remote Bullara Station with their granddaughter.

The trio had set up camp just over the sand dunes from the picture-perfect turquoise waters of the Ningaloo Coast. They’d spent a relaxing morning having the beach to themselves before heading back to their campsite for lunch.

As they were eating, Carol felt something prick her toe and assumed it was an ant bite.

Moments later, the family spotted a large, potentially deadly Western Brown snake – or Gwardar- slither away from their campsite, causing Carol and her granddaughter to scream and jump up on the table.

Carol didn’t realise she had been bitten by the snake until she became very unwell about 15 minutes later.

"I had a weird sensation up the back of one leg and my head felt like I was going to explode," she recalls.

Upon closer inspection of her toe, Carol could see a piercing from a snake fang. If both fangs had punctured her skin, it’s likely to have had a fatal outcome.

A caretaker at the station promptly wrapped her leg firmly with a bandage and with no phone reception, contacted Exmouth Hospital over his two-way radio.

A decision was made to drive Carol to the Coral Bay nursing post and an RFDS crew from Port Hedland was called.

“I was definitely not feeling the best by then and it was a pretty rough drive down that dirt track to Coral Bay,” Carol said.

Dr Crystal O’Neill is the RFDS Medical Practitioner who transferred Carol from Coral Bay to Carnarvon Hospital.

“I knew this was a time-critical, life-threatening presentation,” Dr O’Neill said.

“She’d had a snake bite, had obvious symptoms and she’s in a place where there isn’t a lot of medical care, but luckily she’d had the basic care done very well and very quickly.”

During the short flight to Carnarvon, Dr O’Neill administered Carol with two different types of anti-venom.

We were working off the diagnosis of a Western Brown snake, but the appearance of a snake is not always the most reliable measure of what sort of snake it is, and the advice from the toxicology service at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital was that it was most likely a black snake that bit Carol.

Dr O'Neill
Carol in a hospital bed

Carol praised Dr O’Neill’s in-flight care and remembers that she stayed by her side for a long time during the handover at Carnarvon Hospital.

“The crew kept me so calm and I had complete confidence that they knew what they were doing,” she said.

Unfortunately, Carol’s condition deteriorated at Carnarvon. The snake’s venom had begun attacking her organs – she was suffering internal bleeding and her kidneys were shutting down. The RFDS was called again, this time to transfer Carol to critical care at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth, where she spent two weeks. She looked unrecognisable as her body retained litres of liquid, gaining almost 20 kilograms in a matter of days. While it was hoped her kidneys would repair, it didn’t happen.

Carol’s life has been dramatically altered by the snake bite. She needs dialysis three times a week. She is hopeful that a kidney transplant from a family member will mean that she won’t have to do that for the rest of her life.

“This has been life changing for me and my family,” said Carol.

“But I am so grateful for the RFDS and what they did for me, I wouldn’t be here without them."

Carol is one of 91 people transferred by the RFDS in 2023 after a snake bite or suspected snake bite.

Please consider making a tax deductible donation before June 30.

Carol smiling in front of a PC-12.