A man who crashed his motorcycle was miraculously saved by a wife and husband doctor duo who arrived at the scene of the accident before the ambulance. The couple realised the motorcyclist was suffering from a collapsed lung and were able to save his life using nothing more than a pocket knife and basting needle.
Cape Town-based doctors Dr Wimpie Odendaal and Christa de Wit, who both work at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital, were in Port Elizabeth on holiday and just happened to be the first to arrive on the scene.
The biker had a collapsed lung, which occurs when air leaks into the space between the lungs and the wall of the chest. It causes tension pneumothorax, a condition which can be fatal.
“I knew that something would need to be done immediately to relieve the tension pneumothorax, or the man would have little chance of survival. By this time, a few bystanders had gathered at the scene and … I shouted to ask if anybody had a sharp object I could use. I was offered a pocket knife, and had no other choice than to use this to open the fifth intercostal space anterior to the midaxillary line. This is a specific area between the ribs on the side, to relieve the pressure. If not for this emergency intervention, the man would most likely have died within minutes,” Odendaal told TimesLIVE.
The emergency intervention immediately improved the patient’s condition and Dr Odendaal then made use of a basting needle, which he got from a nearby household, to hold the patient’s side open.
It was then that an ambulance arrived and the medical practitioners were able to join the effort to keep the victim alive.
“We used an endotracheal tube and bowl of water to devise a makeshift underwater drain to restore negative pressure to the pleural cavity and prevent the space from re-filling with air,” said Odendaal. A large-bore drip needle was used to relieve a second tension pneumothorax. The patient was intubated and adrenalin was administered intravenously. Soon, he was stable enough that we could transport him to the emergency department at a nearby Netcare hospital.”
The man spent several weeks in hospital recuperating from his injuries, which included 14 rib fractures, cardiac and pulmonary contusions, a broken pelvis, and a broken foot.
“I was really delighted to have a telephone conversation with this gentleman in the last week of January. Since being discharged, he is continuing his recovery at home. I am really grateful that he is alive and well,” said Odendaal.
After this experience Odendaal has realised the importance of having basic medical equipment on-hand in his vehicle and encourages all medics and medical practitioners to do the same, because who know when you might need to save someone’s life.