Team response saves a life on Rottnest Island

14 October 2020

The Rottnest SwimRun is a 32 kilometre team swimming and running event which last year was interrupted by a medical emergency. When Tony Booker, Terry Gray and Fred English decided to take part in the event in November 2019 they had no idea what would unfold about 10 kilometres in.

Terry, Ross, Kris and Tony at the start of the Rotto Swim Run EventTony says he was competing in the event with a group of school parents “We’d planned for it and done some training together, and when we were around the west end, which is really secluded, we were just catching up to our mates, Ross and Kris, who were running in front of us. Suddenly I saw Ross’ left leg give way and then he just dropped mid stride and face planted. By the time I got to him and flipped him over there were no signs of life, nothing.”

Tony, who had done a lot of first aid training as a police officer, immediately assessed Ross’ condition. “At first I thought maybe it was exhaustion because it was quite hot, but then his lips were blue and we checked his pulse and there was nothing. So I told my partner, Terry, that I’d do the compressions while he did mouth-to-mouth. He looked at me blank, so I had to talk him through how to do it and then we were off.”

Shortly after they commenced CPR they were joined by Fred, another competitor in the event who just happened to be a doctor with the Royal Flying Doctor Service! Tony says Fred’s arrival made all the difference. “He was outstanding! He took up a position at Ross’ head and counted, called out what we needed to do and really managed the whole crisis. Where Ross had gone down was near a turnaround point in the race so other people came to help as they went past. I was doing the compressions, Terry did the breaths and then as soon as my hands came off there was someone else taking over to give me a break and Fred just kept everyone working together.”

The team performed CPR for 7-10 minutes before the ambulance arrived, but Tony says even after the paramedics turned up the existing responders kept going because Fred had it all under control and they didn’t want to change anything. “The paramedics came out with the defibrillator and the adrenaline, and we put the defib on and it took four rounds and a shot of adrenaline to get any signs of life. After the first three rounds of defib I was thinking ‘this is my mate, what are we going to tell his wife?’ but then when Fred administered the adrenaline Ross kicked and he started abusing us and fighting so we knew we had him back!”

Ross regained consciousness and was flown to Fiona Stanley Hospital where he underwent a quadruple bypass procedure. Tony says it came as a shock to everyone, “there was no sign, no knowledge, no prior history or pre-existing medical conditions that we knew about, Ross had already done a number of events that year and had completed training events with us so there was no indication or hint that anything might happen!”Terry and Ross at the finish line of the Rotto Swim Run

Notably, after Ross was taken away by paramedics the trio, and others who had stopped, re-joined the race! “We’re standing there and we say to each other what do we do now? We’re 10kms into a 32km race do we want to finish it? We decided we would continue and finish what we had started. We even managed to catch up to some of the other competitors!” says Tony.

Tony, Terry and Fred were recently recognised for their amazing efforts, receiving Royal Life Saving Gold Medallion Bravery Awards. While they were officially recognised it was clear that significant efforts were made by many other participants and bystanders who contributed to the response. Tony says that team effort meant Ross came out of the incident with no ongoing side effects. “He had no residual brain damage, no loss of function whatsoever, and that was all due to the well-coordinated leadership role that Fred took on to make sure we were working together as a unit, and the efforts of all those who stopped to help at the time.” The excellent first aid skills displayed by the responders undoubtedly saved Ross’ life.

If you know someone who has performed first aid or rescued someone in an emergency situation we’d like to ensure they are also recognised. Click the link below to find out more about the Royal Life Saving Bravery Awards and how you can submit a nomination.

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