Graphic: plane landing on dirt airstrip

Teamwork in a heartbeat saves Darryl

Date published

17 Aug 2015

An acute sense of self-awareness, rapid response by work mates and a 700 kilometre flight from the South Australian outback combined to save the life of Darryl "Fuzz" Hucks.

Less than 12 hours after suffering a terrifying heart attack on the Oodnadatta Track, Fuzz was recovering in Royal Adelaide Hospital after emergency heart surgery to have a stent inserted to maintain crucial blood flow.

Graphic: Darryl on tractor

Fuzz has worked on road gangs in and around outback South Australia for 30 years.For Fuzz and his work mates, teamwork is part of everyday life when they are on the road, living in mobile work campsoften for weeks at a time repairing outback roads for the SA Department ofPlanning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI).It was teamwork during a few critical hours after dawn one morning last December that saved 51-year-old Fuzz's life ashe lay on the ground seriously ill in the middle of nowhere.

The nearest settlement was tiny William Creek, about 25 kilometres to the south-east via a dirt road with Adelaideten hours away by road.Walking back to his room after a 5am breakfast to prepare for work, Fuzz was feeling strange. Having worked as avolunteer for his the local Yunta ambulance he knew he was having a heartattack."I just felt like someone was trying to push a crowbar through my shoulder blade," Fuzz recalls.

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"I told the guys and they put the AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) on me and I lay down on the ground."

An urgent call was made to the RFDS on-call Doctor and Fuzz was given aspirin to help combat blood clotting, and the road gang was advised to move him to William Creek to meet the RFDS aircraft and crew coming from the RFDS Port Augusta Base.

Fuzz, with the AED strapped to his chest, was carefully loaded onto a mattress on the back of a truck. Workmate "Postie" (Gary Kelly) kept vigil with Fuzz in the back while Ronnie Ledgard drove slowly to William Creek.

"I actually died on the way to William Creek, I was unconscious and they zapped me with the AED," Fuzz says. "One of the guys, 'Postie' – he was only a little guy – he had to pump my chest 30 or 40 times."
Postie's work, which included one breath of mouth to mouth, revived Fuzz who lay gravely ill in the back of the truck – but alive – for the rest of the journey to William Creek.

When Fuzz came to he was in the shed at William Creek airstrip where, still in the back of the truck, he was attended to by RFDS Medical Officer, Dr Stephen Ballard, and Flight Nurse Jo Edwards. Within hours of what had been a major heart attack, Dr Ballard had given Fuzz a lifesaving clot-busting drug which stabilised him for the flight to Adelaide

"We saw Mr Hucks at William Creek lying on a mattress on the back of their truck in the hangar and though conscious, he was very ill," Dr Ballard said.

"Our bit was easy," Dr Ballard says, "If it hadn't been for the team effort by his workmates in deploying the AED, then using it and backing it up physically, we would not have had a patient to work on."

Fuzz remained conscious during the 100-minute RFDS flight to Adelaide and was given morphine for the pain. He was in the Royal Adelaide Hospital before midday and by 4pm he was in recovery after an RAH cardiologist inserted the stent to keep the artery open. Grateful to his workmates for his life, Fuzz expects to return to work once he gets the all clear.

In the meantime, he's been keeping himself busy with some goat and sheep mustering at a mate's property and helping with odd jobs around town. Just before Christmas he drove down to Port Augusta and delivered six cartons of beer to his workmates at the DPTI Outback
Roads depot as a thank you.

"Every day above ground is a good one for me from now on," says Fuzz.