My name is John Wenham. I’m a doctor at the RFDS Base in Broken Hill.
Owner of Broken Hill bed and breakfast The Old Vic, Paul Maroney, woke one morning in January this year feeling unwell.
Paul, 69, had previously suffered from a hernia and with increasing abdominal pain, he initially thought the problem had returned.
Paul’s daughter, Meeghan, works as a nurse at Broken Hill Base Hospital, however. She convinced her father to attend the emergency department.
He arrived there about 2pm, then collapsed.
Staff on duty managed to resuscitate Paul (right) and a subsequent scan revealed internal bleeding. Paul had a leaking abdominal aortic aneurysm. This is an extremely serious condition requiring immediate surgery.
In my experience, the survival rate can be as low as one in 10. Death can come within minutes.
While working as a doctor in Manchester, England, I came across two similar cases. We managed to get one patient straight into the operating theatre. A vascular surgeon was available and that patient survived. The second sadly passed away while being prepared for theatre.
In one way, Paul was fortunate. A large clot had formed underneath his right kidney. This temporarily stemmed further bleeding but it was critical Paul underwent surgery as soon as possible.
That afternoon I was at the University of Sydney Broken Hill Department of Rural Health catching up on some paperwork when I received a phone call.
Paul’s only chance was to get to Royal Adelaide Hospital – but the RFDS on-call emergency team was already away on another call-out.
When briefed on the situation they did not hesitate. Both of them arrived at work 90 minutes early.
With Paul on board, we departed Broken Hill at 6pm.
We had received advice from the vascular surgeon in Adelaide to keep Paul’s blood pressure within certain limits. If it got too high the leak could resume.
My biggest concern was during take-off, and also landing. Any sudden movement could have jolted the clot. But pilot Magnus put us down in Adelaide incredibly gently.
A waiting ambulance crew whisked us to the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Upon arrival shortly after 8pm, we were met by a vascular surgeon, an anaesthetist and other medical staff.
And to be honest, they were a little surprised to see us. Their attitude was ‘we didn’t think you guys would make it’.
Paul had needed surgery and he had needed it very soon.
After a successful operation that night and an extended period of recovery, the RFDS brought Paul home to Broken Hill about three weeks later.
He had another three weeks in hospital but is now back running his bed and breakfast.
Certainly, while all of us here at the RFDS face a variety of different medical situations every day, Jackie, Magnus and I felt Paul’s transfer to Adelaide was a great achievement.
We got him to the right place at the right time – and it saved his life.
Inter-hospital transfers are a major part of the RFDS’s life-saving work. Paul was just one of more than 7,850 patients who utilise our inter-hospital transfer service every year.
So whether you live out in the bush or in a city like Broken Hill, we take care of you.
If you support the Flying Doctor Service I want to thank you. You are helping us save lives.