RBWH saved my life twice - and I don’t remember either!

22 May 2024

Richard De Haast is a walking medical marvel. The Brisbane grandfather has survived not one, but two near-death medical emergencies in the past few years.

On both occasions, Richard attributes the quality of care and a legacy of medical research at Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH), supported by the RBWH Foundation, as key to his survival.

The Brisbane grandfather’s first brush with death was an anaphylactic reaction to anaesthesia, the second was a cardiac arrest at home.

“RBWH is an amazing place, an amazing place,” said Richard.

“If we were in Zimbabwe, where we came from, I wouldn't be standing here today, I would have died.”

In 2020, Richard was about to undergo a standard prostate procedure. His anaesthetist, Professor Victoria Eley, remembers the day well.

“Having an anaesthetic in Australia is very safe, but unexpected reactions to anaesthetic medications occur in approximately 1:10 000 cases,” explained Professor Eley.  

“These reactions can be life-threatening and anaesthetists are trained to recognise and treat anaphylaxis, which can occur suddenly during surgery.” 

As is procedure, more than 15 staff mobilised to stablise Richard’s condition, before he was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to recover.

“Professor Eley battled to keep him alive for me,” said Richard’s wife, Irene, “And she did, she saved him and we’re just very grateful for all the medical staff: they are amazing people.”

 Richard eventually returned for the procedure.

“Dr Peter Casey, an anaesthetist in the Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine performed blood and skin tests to identify the medication that caused the allergic reaction,” explained Professor Eley.

“This meant that when Richard returned to the RBWH for his surgery, we could avoid giving him that specific medication. Richard can wear an allergy alert bracelet to alert medical staff and he should never have that medication again.”

Two years later, it was Richard’s wife Irene administering emergency CPR when Richard stopped breathing while they were watching TV together. She credits her favourite TV shows with helping save his life.

“I watch Paramedics and I watch ER, and they pull the person flat on the ground and start pressing the chest and that's all I did,” recalled Irene.

“Then my son phoned me, I just pressed his number and screamed, I need help.

“My grandson and his girlfriend came, and they took over from me until paramedics arrived.”

Richard underwent emergency surgery to have heart stents put in. He remained in ICU for a fortnight before transferring to the Surgical, Treatment and Rehabilitation Service (STARS) for rehabilitation.

Not surprisingly, life has changed a little, these days.

“I do gym every day at home as well as come to the Heart Support Service at RBWH, once a week.

“We’ve changed everything in our diets: we don't eat pizzas anymore and we just live a healthy lifestyle.”

“All of this advice has come from the RBWH – I couldn't praise the level of care more. For anybody to say, oh, they didn't get good care in this place, they’re absolutely wrong.”

Thanks Richard, the RBWH Foundation is inspired every day by the passion and dedication of the health professionals.

Donate today to support their extraordinary work.