Heart horror

Date published

30 Oct 2019

“I could never have imagined that our holiday would end with me being airlifted for heart surgery 1,600 kilometres away,” says Kevin, a retired Canberra resident.

Kevin and his wife Linda had planned their trip to Australia’s ‘red centre’ for months.

"If you’d told me I was about to suffer a sudden cardiac arrest, I’d never have believed you,” said Kevin.  “I consider myself reasonably fit and healthy, having not long ago walked the Kokoda Track. I see my GP every six months for a full check-up. My blood pressure and cholesterol have always been what they call ‘textbook.’

On paper, I was in pretty good health.”

Certainly, nothing appeared to be wrong when Kevin, Linda and their friends set off for an enjoyable day of walking and taking in the stunning scenery. It was only part way through their walk that Kevin noticed something wasn’t quite right.

“Two young guys walking behind us asked if I was alright,” remembers Kevin. “I just felt a bit crook. I sat down to rest for a few minutes and soon felt better. A few minutes later, I vomited.”

Without warning, Kevin lost consciousness. He was suffering a cardiac arrest.

Around him, a group of skilled and caring bystanders sprang into action. His wife, Linda, explains, “The two men behind us immediately began CPR. Meanwhile, the ranger used his radio to call for help and the Team Leader Park Operations coordinated Kevin’s rescue. Two off-duty paramedics and two off-duty police officers joined the group of people desperately trying to help. Another ranger raced over to Kevin with a defibrillator and medical kit. The paramedics applied the pads to Kevin’s chest to deliver shocks to his heart and administered medication.”

Just a few minutes later, Kevin regained consciousness.

“I found myself strapped onto some sort of rescue stretcher,” he says. “I asked ‘what’s going on?’ I was told ‘you’ve had a bit of a turn, but don’t worry, you’re looking much better now.’”

But Kevin’s journey was far from over. It took nearly two hours for the group to safely complete the trail, carrying Kevin to the waiting local ambulance. Kevin was transported to nearby Yulara Health Centre where a Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) aircraft and aeromedical crew were waiting to airlift him to Alice Springs Hospital.

A RFDS propellor aircraft stands on red dirt.

“Kevin was in a fortunate position,” recalls Doctor Sandeep Buttar. “CPR had been performed and a defibrillator had successfully shocked Kevin’s heart back into a normal rhythm. We performed an electrocardiogram (ECG) which confirmed Kevin had suffered a heart attack.”

Doctor Sandeep and RFDS Flight Nurse Adele loaded Kevin into the aircraft to make the 445 kilometre flight to Alice Springs.

The journey takes over five hours by road, but a RFDS ‘flying intensive care unit’ covers this ground in just 60 minutes.

Adele and Sandeep administered thrombolytic drugs to dissolve any clots in Kevin’s heart and morphine to lessen his pain. Thankfully, Kevin remained in a stable condition throughout the flight.

Early the next morning, the ‘Flying Doctor’ was tasked once again to airlift Kevin to Adelaide for a stent to be inserted into his heart. Doctors at the Royal Adelaide Hospital were able to begin the life-saving procedure within just an hour of Kevin landing at Adelaide Airport.

Kevin then spent four days recovering in hospital where he reflected on the turn of events.

“I was so lucky to have had my cardiac arrest when I was surrounded by people who knew what to do,” says Kevin.

“Whilst it wasn’t the most convenient place for it to happen, as it turns out, it was the best place.”

“If it had happened in my sleep, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be here today.”

“There are so many people I have to thank for saving my life. The NT Park Rangers, St John Ambulance, staff at Alice Springs Hospital and the Royal Adelaide Hospital and the many skilled people who were thankfully in the same place I was that day.”

“And of course I want to especially thank the Flying Doctor crews. When you find yourself in my situation, far from specialist medical care, there’s a great sense of relief once you’re on that plane.”

“Everyone has said ‘it wasn’t your time’. I’m certainly very fortunate to be alive."

Every day the RFDS provides 25 aeromedical transfers throughout South and Central Australia for people like Kevin and their families. But we can’t do it without you.

Will you donate today to help us continue to help people like Kevin when they need us most?

A RFDS aircraft is stationary on red dirt.