Shark attack survivor Justine Barwick shares her ordeal.
Shark attack survivor Justine Barwick shares her ordeal.

'I didn't know whether I was going to … walk or ... die'

JUSTINE Barwick - critically injured and terrified - is being wheeled into theatre where medical teams are about to spend three hours saving her life and leg.

But etched in her memory is the kind-hearted face of Dr Tina Moriaty, then a stranger and the senior medical officer who held her hand offering comfort in her darkest hour.

"I knew I was about to go to sleep and to be honest I didn't know whether I was going to… walk or whether I was going to die," Justine said.

"I'd like to say that I remember all the clever medical things that she did to help me survive, but I remember that she held my hand and she listened to me when I told her that I was scared."

Shark attack survivor Justine Barwick said the face of Mackay Base Hospital Dr Tina Moriaty is imprinted in her memory.
Shark attack survivor Justine Barwick said the face of Mackay Base Hospital Dr Tina Moriaty is imprinted in her memory.

Multiple emergency teams worked together seamlessly to help the Tasmanian woman survive a near fatal shark attack at Cid Harbour on September 19 last year.

Barely a year later she has returned to Mackay Base Hospital for an emotional reunion with the staff, including doctors, nurses and social workers, who had been on hand or were called in after the RACQ CQ Rescue chopper landed in the early evening.

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Walking slowly down the corridor - a silver webbed walking stick gripped in her hand - Justine locked eyes with Dr Moriaty, who had been nervously pacing the edge of the crowd of people awaiting her arrival.

"My heart was pounding," Dr Moriaty said.

"I felt very privileged that she wanted to come and see us."

Their stoic demeanours crumbled and amid tears and laughter they embraced.

"I remember you… thank you so much," Justine said.

 

Cid Harbour shark attack survivor Justine Barwick embraces Dr Tina Moriaty, who held her hand as she was being wheeled in to theatre.
Cid Harbour shark attack survivor Justine Barwick embraces Dr Tina Moriaty, who held her hand as she was being wheeled in to theatre.

Thank you very much - Justine repeated these words as she shook hands with and hugged every person at the hospital involved in her survival.

Senior medical officer Dr John Hadok was, by chance, the first on scene.

"It was purely accidental. I just happened to be in my little trailer sailer in Cid Harbour on that afternoon," he said.

It was the sixth year that Justine and her husband Craig had visited the Whitsundays for an annual holiday.

"We'd had an awesome day, it was a beautiful day in a beautiful part of the world," she said recalling that fateful sailing trip.

Justine had just dived back into the water when the attack happened about 5pm, while her friend was in the water nearby.

"I knew immediately what was happening," she said.

It was the first of three shark attacks in Cid Harbour late last year. A 12-year-old girl, Hannah Papps, was mauled the following day, losing a leg, and on November 5 Dr Daniel Christidis, 33, was attacked and killed while swimming.

 

Mackay Hospital and Health Service’s Dr John Hadok.
Mackay Hospital and Health Service’s Dr John Hadok.

As Justine's loved ones frantically went from boat to boat in search of aid, they called on Dr Hadok.

"So I went across to see if I could help," he said.

Justine's injuries were traumatic, but Dr Hadok said her husband and friend had already instituted excellent first aid to stem the catastrophic bleeding.

"It was clear she'd lost a huge amount of blood… she needed to be kept horizontal because she didn't have enough blood to pump around if she was in the sitting position," he said.

Dr Hadok also helped coordinate Justine's transfer from the yacht to an inflatable dinghy and out to the open water where she could be winched up by the RACQ CQ Rescue chopper crew.

It was tricky - there was poor reception, fading light and other boats and their masts prevented the helicopter retrieving her from the yacht.

"Her injuries were so severe that she had to get to Mackay," Dr Hadok said.

"Time was very important but not just for those reasons… the helicopter had been on a search and rescue mission, so it didn't have must fuel left."

Dr Hadok humbly played down his role. "It was very small, but nonetheless probably essential… it was a small role compared to the other amazing people that contributed to her survival," he said.

 

Shark attack survivor Justine Barwick speaks with Mackay Base Hospital's Dr Wendela Schimmer and Dr Tina Moriaty, who were among the team involved in saving her life and leg.
Shark attack survivor Justine Barwick speaks with Mackay Base Hospital's Dr Wendela Schimmer and Dr Tina Moriaty, who were among the team involved in saving her life and leg.

At Mackay Base Hospital Dr Moriaty led the trauma team that kept Justine alive and strong enough for surgeons to save her right leg.

"Tina's face is just imprinted in my head, but it's (also) in my heart," Justine said.

"It was not just me - it was the whole team. It's never one person and I think it was all of us wanting to do the best by her," Dr Moriaty said.

"And every single one in that room was focused on her, so we were very lucky to have a stellar team for every step from emergency to anaesthetics to intensive care (to) the surgical team."

Justine was faced with life-threatening injuries but doctors determined she was strong enough for them to operate on her leg.

"We must always make a decision, life before limb - if we had to do an emergency amputation versus trying to save the leg," director of surgery Dr Frans Pretorius said.

 

Justine Barwick with director of surgery Dr Frans Pretorius, who was involved in the operation that saved her leg following a shark attack at Cid Harbour.
Justine Barwick with director of surgery Dr Frans Pretorius, who was involved in the operation that saved her leg following a shark attack at Cid Harbour.

The artery, vein and nerve were all severed and there was no tissue left.

"What we did was harvest the vein from the other leg," Dr Pretorius said.

Three surgeons across two teams removed the vein, grafting it to the severed artery, which restored blood flow to her injured leg.

"That pretty much saved the leg," he said.

She was then flown to Brisbane where surgeons reconstructed her right leg.

Six months after the attack Justine made the decision to view photos of her injuries, which she said "helped me to understand exactly what happened to me".

"Some difficulties I'm having with my leg, and learning to use my new leg and perhaps why some of the things I find difficult are difficult… when you see the damage that was done," she said.

 

Justine Barwick raising money for CQ Rescue a year on from her shark attack.
Justine Barwick raising money for CQ Rescue a year on from her shark attack.

Dr Moriaty shared with Justine that teams within the hospital were closer because of her.

"As emergency physicians we see so many traumas… it doesn't always go right, and sometimes it does and the reason is you," she said.

For Justine, reuniting with the hospital staff was one of the most "amazing" experiences on her road to recovery.

"I've never seen our story as a story of a shark bite. I think I've seen our story as one of people doing what they do incredibly well and of gratitude," she said.

"So for me, I needed to come to say thank you to the team here and to Tina."

She is yet to return to the Whitsundays, "but I will" she said. That and sailing were "on the cards" as things that will get ticked off.

For now she plans to "be grateful (and) continue to enjoy this second chance that I've got".

"You'd have rocks in your head not to take that and grab it with both hands," she said.



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