Mate saves surgeon by lake

Colac surgeon Chris Sutherland is alive and recovering after rowing mate Peter Grieg administed emergency CPR during a heart attack.

“There’s nothing like having your friend drop dead in front of you to remind yourself to brush up on CPR skills.”

A mate’s courage, a wife’s love, and a CPR refresher course have saved the life of a Colac surgeon.

When rowing mates Dr Chris Sutherland and Peter Greig finished training on the ergometer, they usually cooled down with a drink of water outside the Colac Rowing Club building.

But on January 13 this year, about 6.30am, Chris collapsed.

He was 66 years old, and he exercised regularly. He had just completed the Pier-to-Pub swim a week earlier. There were no warning signs.

“He simply looked half-startled, then dropped silently backwards over a steep lakeside embankment onto hard ground – onto his head,” Peter said.

Peter could see no sign of life, his recent CPR training screamed in his ear: “Get some blood to his brain!”

Peter started with chest compressions and gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to his rowing buddy of more than 25 years.

With the first cycle Chris started breathing again, but Peter’s training meant he knew he couldn’t stop.

“‘At least he’s alive’, I thought,” Peter said.

“Looking around, there was no one in sight. My mobile was at home; and I didn’t dare leave to hunt for Chris’s.”

Peter continued CPR for about 10 minutes before fellow rower Dale Goodacre returned from a run and called 000, before remembering there was a defibrillator in the rowing shed.

Dale applied the shocks while Peter administered CPR, with emergency responders delayed because the rowing shed doesn’t appear on online maps.

When paramedics arrived they took over the CPR and gave Chris adrenaline, while passers-by stopped to help, including Chris’s doctor friend Akram Alkurd.

Chris showed signs of pained consciousness when his wife Sue arrived, with paramedics continuing the life-saving treatment as two ambulances appeared, and he was eventually airlifted to hospital at Geelong, and then to the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

The surgeon’s heart had effectively stopped for 50 minutes before treatment kicked in; he had two broken vertebrae in his neck, and he underwent a triple bypass heart surgery in Melbourne.

Miraculously, no damage to the brain or heart muscle had occurred through loss of blood supply – largely thanks to Peter’s quick thinking and persistence.

The heart surgery was a success, but doctors said it would be 12 weeks before they could properly assess the neck damage.

Chris had at least six teams of doctors at the Alfred – teams for trauma, pain, orthopaedics, spine, stroke – doctors who were amazed at Chris’s strength in recovery and who tried to transfer him to another Melbourne hospital.

But he insisted he be sent to Colac Hospital, or else home.

“The Alfred did a fantastic job, and we need those tertiary centres for their expertise, but the local hospital has done an amazing job looking after me – the staff here, all of them, were wonderful. The support has been overwhelming, I can’t say enough how lucky we are here in Colac,” Chris said.

See today’s Colac Herald for more.

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