Australian Physician/Diver Played Key Role in Thai Cave Rescue

Marcia Frellick

July 10, 2018

Australian anesthetist and world-renowned cave diver Richard Harris, MBBS, played a key role in rescuing the 12 youth soccer team members and their coach trapped in a cave in Thailand since June 23, according to the New York Post.

The last four boys and the coach were removed from the cave this morning, ending an 18-day ordeal.

Harris, 53, known as "Harry," from Adelaide, works for the South Australian Ambulance Service's aeromedical evacuation service MedStar and has 30 years' experience as a diver.

He joined Thai medical and diving experts in the rescue from the flooded Tham Luang cave complex and entered a chamber deep inside the complex to check on the boys early Sunday, the Post reported.

After assessing their fitness, Harris recommended that the weakest boys be rescued first, which changed the initial strategy of taking the strongest first, the newspaper reported.

In a press conference  on Sunday, Harris's boss at MedStar, clinical director Andrew Pearce, said that Harris had been headed for vacation when British officials asked for his help.

"Harry is selfless," Pearce told reporters. "He is extremely thoughtful. He's a quiet person. He's the type of guy who will give of his all. He was actually meant to be on holiday and gave up his holiday to be part of this."

In addition to his skills as a doctor, Pearce said, "He happens to have this amazing ability to do what no one else does in diving into very dark, tight spaces with not a lot of equipment."  

A Doctor in Demand

Harris's work biography says, "His love of underwater exploration has led him to work on National Geographic documentaries, feature films and with various teams worldwide in the role of diver, underwater cameraman and of course medical support. He is a member of the Explorers Club of New York and recently received an Australian award for 'Outstanding Contributions to Cave Exploration."

This was not the first cave retrieval mission for Harris.

According to the publication The Australian,  Harris helped recover the body of his friend Agnes Milowka, 29, in 2011. Milowka died after running  out of oxygen in Tank Cave near Mount Gambier in South Australia.

Medical Concerns

CNN, citing information from the Mayo Clinic, said medical providers will likely check the team for signs of histoplasmosis, or "cave disease," caused by breathing in spores of a fungus often found in bird and bat droppings. The CNN report said the team — currently quarantined — is likely to stay in a hospital for a week because of their weakened immune systems.

The New York Times has reported that at least two of the first eight boys recovered may have pneumonia, and according to Thailand's permanent secretary for public health, Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, all are being treated with antibiotics and being vaccinated for tetanus and rabies.

Multiple media reports also cite experts discussing the high risk among the boys — ranging in age from 11 to 16  — and their coach, 25, for posttraumatic stress disorder.

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