Working as a bus driver, Bob Duke thought he was in robust good health.
His job meant he had a medical examination every 12 months.
While camping out at Menindee Lake earlier this year, however, he collapsed.
“Everything was normal,” Bob, 67, recalled. “I went out to the car to change-over the camping fridge and everything just drained out of me. It came out of the blue.”
Bob and his wife Dorothy, from Narromine, 40 km west of Dubbo, had been caravanning in the Outback for two months.
But their trip came to an abrupt halt at Menindee.
Over the next four days, his heart would stop six times.
Fellow campers rushed him to the small Menindee Clinic. An ambulance from Broken Hill was dispatched and on the way to Broken Hill Base Hospital he continued to pass in and out of consciousness.
Initial investigations started in Broken Hill before it was found that the specialist cardiac services Bob required were in Adelaide, 500km away.
Bob was then assessed by RFDS medical officer Dr Bill Hines and flight nurse Tracey King prior to being transferred onto a Royal Flying Doctor Service flight for Royal Adelaide Hospital.
Dorothy was unable to go on the plane but through a mutual friend, had met long-term RFDS Broken Hill Visitors’ Centre tour guide Reta Elliott.
Reta has worked with the RFDS for 25 years. Reta’s husband, Ron, drove Dorothy to Adelaide and the Dukes stored their caravan at the Elliott’s Broken Hill home while Bob was recovering.
Meanwhile, medical staff at the Royal Adelaide Hospital had inserted a pacemaker into Bob.
“The next morning I was feeling fine,” Bob recalled. “But I didn’t realize what had happened. The doctors had done an ultrasound and told me it was my heart stopping. It happened six times altogether.
“It was all a bit of shock.”
The couple has since returned to Broken Hill to collect their car and caravan and while there called into the Visitors’ Centre and made some purchases.
“The RFDS has always been a great service,” Bob said. “What happened to us, how they helped us, just reinforces that. Probably no amount of donations is enough.”