Cliff Packham - RFDS cardiac arrest on fishing trip

A fishing trip which could have been his last

Date published

23 Mar 2018

With a bag full of fish and his mates in tow, Cliff Packham made his way back to his accommodation on the tranquil Sweers Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria. However, his fishing trip – more than 10 years in the making - was to be cut dramatically short.

As he rested in his cabin, he began to feel unwell. 

“We'd been fishing all morning. I can't even blame the fact that I was fighting a big fish and it put strain on me. There was no pain, no shortness of breath, nothing at all."

Cliff's mates had alerted Tex, one of the owners of Sweers Island, that he was feeling a bit unwell. Tex decided to monitoring Cliff's blood pressure as a precaution. He also alerted the Flying Doctor. 

 It was then that Cliff's heart stopped beating and he went into cardiac arrest. But the fact Cliff is alive to tell his story today is testament to a number of incredible people who came to his rescue.

One of Cliff's mate's began performing CPR, before Kody, a young worker on Sweers Island took over, carrying out CPR on Cliff for more than 20 minutes. 

Cliff Packham RFDS

Tex and his team also fortunately had a defibrillator. It had never been used up until now, however they had always carried out regular checks to make sure it could operate in an emergency such as this. This was crucial in saving Cliff’s life. 

“They raced down with the defibrillator, immediately they realised that I was in a full cardiac arrest, which apparently I had been for a number of minutes, and they applied it to get my heart beating,” Cliff said.

All the while, Sweers Island staff were on the phone the Royal Flying Doctor Service who were providing advice. 

After landing on Sweers Island, Cliff was stabilised and flown to Townsville Hospital, about 1,000km away. Stating clearly that he remembers nothing of the flight is probably a good thing for Cliff, as he suffered another cardiac arrest during his transfer. 

“I believe that on the way to Townsville I went through another cardiac arrest, but I have no recollection of that at all. Nothing other than telling my mate I was unwell, and I didn't even know I'd collapsed until I woke up in the hospital in Townsville about 24 hours later.”

It took Cliff several months to work out that his survival had less to do with luck, and more to do with his friends' quick thinking, the Flying Doctor's speedy response and Townsville Hospital's excellent cardiac surgeons.

Today, Cliff is recovering well at his nephew's home on the Sunshine Coast. Every day he is feeling a bit stronger, and although it's only been five months since he almost died twice, he's already planning for the day he's well enough to return to Sweers Island and pick up the pieces of his once-in-a-lifetime holiday. 

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