Waikato Hospital Intensive Care Unit nurse Leah Cameron used her nurses training to possibly save her own life after a freak surfing accident.
By Phillipa Yalden, original source Waikato Times
A young surfer used her surfboard leg rope as a tourniquet to stop the blood flowing from a gaping fin wound after a freak accident.
She was bleeding on a deserted Waikato beach at night with no cellphone reception to call for help.
Leah Cameron, a 22-year-old intensive care nurse, was out for a twilight surf off the rugged west coast beach of Ruapuke this week in what started as calm, 3ft conditions when a pummelling wave struck.
It toppled the surfer, embedding her beloved 5’10” Fish board into the sand and sending the fibreglass fin deep into the surfer’s inner left thigh.
“Conditions were perfect, quite small and it was like a freak wave that shut down on me. I ended up in the wrong place, wrong time. It was quite surreal.
“You can get gashes in your foot and leg, but generally not on your inner thigh. I was lucky.”
Cameron and her friend Jo had driven from Hamilton after work on Monday to their favourite spot, south of Raglan, to surf the last waves before the sun set. With the dark setting in, the pair decided to surf five more minutes when the big wave hit.
“There were some big sets of waves coming in, so I caught this massive wave that came through and my board slipped out from underneath me, and embedded into the sea floor.
“I got picked up by the wave, which reformed, and it dropped me on top of my fin, the glass fin went through my leg.”
Swirling in the pitch black surf, Cameron remembers the stinging pain piercing her leg.
“The fin had snapped off, and stuck in my leg. I kind of swam myself back into shore, it must have fallen out when I was swimming. I realised something wasn’t good when there was blood spraying out.”
Cameron, who grew up in Cambridge and works as a nurse at Waikato Hospital, quickly put her medical skills into play, grabbing the lead of her board to create a makeshift tourniquet and halt the bloodflow.
Her biggest fear was that she may have a cut artery.
“There was a lot of blood, I thought I was going to lose my leg, I tried not to think I was going to die, but there was a lot of blood.”
Luckily, on the deserted dark beach, four tourists spotted the pair’s waves for help and came to their aid.
“We waved down these guys and quite often you will be surfing at Ruapuke and no one else is there. They ran down and helped carry me back up to the car, it was a bit of a mission.”
By this stage Cameron had started to go into shock. She remained conscious, attempting to apply pressure to the wound and calm her friend who was frantically driving the pair along the windy Waikato roads to an area with cellphone reception.
“We drove for about half an hour and got to somewhere that was safe. We managed to get some people who pulled up on the side of the road to apply pressure.
“I just knew I had to get on the ground so I could put pressure above it, I knew to keep calm and not to panic or you will go into shock quicker.”
The fin had impaled the flesh of her thigh, causing a large laceration about 18cm long.
Cameron was flown by the Waikato-based Westpac Rescue Helicopter to Waikato Hospital in a serious condition where the wound was explored for fibreglass fragments before being stitched up.
A nerve blocker was administered, which stopped her from being able to walk, and a second surgery was performed on Tuesday to re-examine the wound.
After spending three days in hospital and getting a patient’s perspective on medical life, the 22-year-old was discharged home and would likely make a full recovery.
A long-time surfer, Cameron was still frothing to get out among the waves, and just hoped there wasn’t too much damage to the board.
“I love it, it’s almost like a medicine. Work can be stressful and it’s good to have an outlet outside of that.”