Emilia's Story

Date published

20 Nov 2018

Four-year-old Perth girl Emilia was holidaying in the remote coastal town of Coral Bay when she was bitten twice by a deadly western brown snake.

The atmosphere at a remote Coral Bay nursing post on this given day was frantic to say the least. Four-year-old Perth girl Emilia Barnard had just been hurried in by her panicked parents and her health was deteriorating by the moment.  

Emilia had just been bitten, not once, but twice on her right foot by a deadly western brown snake.

The anguish and distress experienced by Emilia’s parents was further heightened when they heard the news that the nursing post had no anti-venom in stock.

But all was not lost, with an RFDS crew tasked to respond and deliver the anti-venom from the Port Hedland base, nearly three-and-a-half hours away by plane.

It was the June 4, WA Day public holiday and the Barnard family had picked the coastal town of Coral Bay for a beachside getaway. 

That morning, their spirited daughter had awoken with an eagerness to get to the beach, so much so mum Kari Barnard had to chase after her as she bounded ahead. 

Emilia had made it to the top of the stairs leading to the beach when she let out a blood-curdling scream. Kari, who was trailing only a mere stone’s throw away, was able to sight the culprit that had caused her daughter’s distress.

Slithering down a nearby hole was a limestone-coloured serpent which Kari identified as the western brown snake.

The Pseudonaja Nuchalis, commonly known as the western brown snake or gwardar, is a dangerously venomous species with neurotoxic and haemotoxic venom.

While their venom is less toxic in comparison to its eastern cousin, the western brown snake delivers three times as much venom. Victims report experiencing headache, nausea, abdominal pain, blood clotting and sometimes kidney damage.

With the help of a dozen medical professionals via video link from Perth, the two nurses on duty worked to stop the venom from spreading while waiting for the RFDS to arrive with the anti-venom.

At one point, Emilia who had been complaining of a sore head and abdominal pain, suddenly collapsed and had to be ventilated for up to two minutes.

When the RFDS crew walked through the doors carrying the anti-venom, Mr and Mrs Barnard said the relief was so immense it was indescribable.

“Until the moment the RFDS arrived, we were unsure as to how things were going to turn out,” Kari said.

Kari said she was especially grateful to the nurse on-board the flight who gave her advice and emotional support throughout the ordeal. 

“The fact that the RFDS was able to reach us in a remote place in really bad weather and get us to Perth for specialist care with no out-of-pocket costs to us is something we should all be incredibly grateful for as Western Australians,” she said.

“The isolation felt extreme in Coral Bay when Emilia was bitten by the snake.

“To know that doctors are on their way to get you is incredibly comforting in a life or death situation like we were in. I don’t even want to think about the alternative.”