Emergency doctor recalls frantic surfside rescue of man savaged by great white shark

Dr Kurt Durbridge was at the beach when a fellow surfer was attacked by a great white shark.
Dr Kurt Durbridge: Facebook.

Almost every hour of his emergency medical training must have run through the brain of Dr Kurt Durbridge as he headed out into the surf to help save the life of a man savaged by a great white shark.

The attack on surfer Toby Begg happened at a Port Macquarie beach on the NSW mid-north coast last month.

“His sheer grit and will to live by swimming himself to shore whilst bleeding to death with femoral artery laceration and a disarticulated right foot is beyond belief to me,” Dr Durbridge wrote in his Facebook post describing what happened.

“I am just so thankful that everyone on scene was able to come together to help save this absolute warrior’s life, so he was able to see the ones he loves again.”

The day started without incident, as Dr Durbridge, having packed the kids off to school, headed down to the beach for a surf at Lighthouse Beach, a bit before 10am.

“As I’m surveying the water, I see a bunch of surfers all coming in at once and there appears to be a certain frantic energy to it all.

“I see one of the surfers approach a passerby on the sand who takes off up the beach towards me. 

“Feeling something isn’t quite right, I begin to jog a little, still with my surfboard in hand to cross paths with this lady and another surfer — she yells ‘shark attack, there’s been a shark attack!’

“I ask if anyone is hurt to which the surfer replies: ‘Yep, he’s pretty f***ed’.”

As the gravity of the situation sunk in, Dr Durbridge sprinted the remaining 150 metres to the water’s edge.

“As I reach the knee-high water, I can see a man who is as white as a ghost with horrific injuries and a massive bloody laceration to his left thigh and a traumatic amputation of his right foot. 

“My recollection is of sprinting to the bunch of surfers and saying, ‘My name is Kurt, I’m a doctor, we need to get this man to the high-water mark and use some leg ropes as tourniquet as soon as possible.’

“It was highly likely that there was much more swearing and a lot less concise communication at the time.” 

They dragged him another 50 metres to the high-water mark where incredibly an ED colleague of Dr Durbridge, a nurse Jacob, had already removed his board’s leg rope and applied it to Mr Begg’s left leg in the surf. 

Dr Durbridge asked fellow surfers to get another leg rope for the other limb, “place it on the thigh and tighten it with everything you have”.

“The next thing I remember is Jacob saying, ‘Should we start CPR?’” he wrote.

“This whole scene has been so chaotic I’m not even sure if this man is alive or dead.

“As I look down at him, I can see he’s breathing, he’s moving his arms, but I can’t feel a radial pulse, he has a central pulse, his eyes then open — he’s alive! 

“This joy soon turns to anxiety and dread — I know what we need to save this man’s life; blood products and an operating theatre to control the bleeding but I have no way to expedite this, we must wait for the ambulance to arrive.“

Dr Durbridge said it felt like an “eternity” before the wail of an ambulance was heard, as he continued reassuring Mr Begg but it was about 20 minutes. 

After a medical handover, one of the paramedics placed a 16g cannula in the severely shocked Mr Begg’s right cubital fossa on her first attempt “whilst kneeling in the sand”.

Dr Durbridge said he was considering inserting a second cannula but also felt he was “flirting” with the tendency in field medicine to stay on the scene for too long. 

“This is the first time in reassuring Toby that he was going to make it that I actually believed there was a medical chance he might,” Dr Durbridge said. 

“The relief in seeing him still breathing, moving and talking as the ambulance doors slammed shut is something that will stay with me for life.”

Mr Begg since reached out to him from hospital. 

He had had surgery to repair arteries, nerves and veins, and to formalise below the amputation in anticipation of potentially being fitted with a prosthetic down the track.

“It’s not lost on me or Toby, that he was very unlucky, but lucky in the same instance,” Dr Durbridge told ABC News.

“He’s still got a way to go, but he seems like he’s in really in high spirits considering everything that’s gone on.

“It makes me think twice about going surfing, but it’s just such a freak incident and I’d like to think in time I’ll be back to my normal self and using the beach as often as I normally would.”

Read more: Specialist’s bravery recognised after ‘nightmare’ car crash rescue

More information: ABC News; 7 September 2023