Shark attack survivor gives thanks to rescuers
IN October last year, retired US Navy Master Diver Rick Bettua made headlines around the world after being attacked by a bull shark on Britomart Reef off Lucinda.
What followed has been described as a textbook medical response, with 'everything going right' to save the 59-year-old's life.
Since that fateful day, Mr Bettua has personally sought out and thanked each and every person involved in saving him, visiting Ingham Health Service last week to cross the last name off that list.
Ingham health service senior medical officer Dr Ann Hoschke was one of the first on the scene as emergency services began to assemble, responding to reports that a man had been bitten by a shark.
"Almost everybody was there 30 minutes before me; the police wouldn't let any boats come in so there were around 20 vessels anchored away from the jetty, emergency services had put up tents, the four biggest fireys were ready to get me out of the boat, onto the stretcher and then race me to the tent where Dr Ann was waiting to get blood into me," Mr Bettua said.
"They were about ready to paddle me [with a defibrillator] but the moment that blood hit my heart it started everything back up."
Just one hour and 25 minutes earlier, Mr Bettua was spearfishing in the middle of the day in the cool, crystal-clear waters of Britomart Reef when a 3.5 metre bull shark 'came out of nowhere'.
"I saw it coming, but I didn't see it from a long way away. It just accelerated a hundred miles an hour from the bottom of the reef; I saw its head was huge and I knew it was going to impact me so I smashed it as hard as I could in the face," Mr Bettua said.
"I kind of rolled it to my right and it bit, and then bit me again, and then it made a 180-degree turn and left just as fast as it came."
It was at that moment that Mr Bettua's 32 years of Navy training kicked in.
"I heard this voice in my head that said 'that thing just bit me' before this cloud of blood started coming around me, then the military training kicked in and I told myself to calm down and quickly get out of water," he said.
"I swam to the surface, crawled in the boat, and told my friend 'three minutes'. He said 'three minutes for what Rick?' and I said 'you've got three minutes to save my life; take your weight belt off and put a tourniquet on my leg'."
In what can only be described as fate, another boat was close by; a more powerful, 7.2 metre, 225- horsepower vessel which, along with its owner Paul Lambert, had on board Cairns HHS paediatric cardiologist Dr Ben Reeves and Bastien Jezzi, a 'massive seven-foot man' who was big enough to hold Mr Bettua down for the next hour and a half as the boat raced its way to the Lucinda jetty.
"I rolled over on my right side and the pain went away; I took three deep breaths which felt really good and I realised, that's my out … that's what I've got to do, focus on breathing, slow your heart down, slow everything down, and I did that for about an hour and 25 minutes while focusing on the faces of my wife and my sons."
It wasn't until the very end of that journey that Mr Bettua's body started to give up.
Dr Hoschke said she could still remember the moment she first saw Mr Bettua.
"They got Rick out of the boat very quickly; he was unconscious and an awful grey colour. He had clearly lost a massive amount of blood and had very little left in the tank," Dr Hoschke said.
"By the time he got to me he had stopped breathing and had no pulse; Ben Reeves started performing bag-mask resuscitation and I knew at that point the only thing that could save him was intravenous (IV) access to get blood and fluid back into him, and the cannula needed to be large to get it in fast.
"When you're in the moment you're acting on your training and instinct; my main priority was getting that IV in, which is difficult to do for someone who's essentially dead, so when I got the access straight away it was an incredible relief.
Dr Hoschke said after the first couple of units of blood Mr Bettua began breathing on his own and then eventually regained consciousness.
Once stabilised, Mr Bettua was rushed onto the waiting helicopter and transferred to Townsville University Hospital where, after 14 units of blood, four surgeries and the astonishment of many, he left just four weeks later with nothing but some nerve damage and a telltale scar.
Mr Bettua estimates that in total around 100 people were involved in saving his life that day.
"I appreciate everything; every day is like getting a bonus. When my day finally does come I will not be sookin', I'll be saying 'thank you God for giving me this extra time'," Mr Bettua said.
Originally published as Shark attack survivor gives thanks to rescuers