Dr Deborah Simmons and the Moranbah Hospital nursing staff. Picture: Daryl Wright
Dr Deborah Simmons and the Moranbah Hospital nursing staff. Picture: Daryl Wright

Mine blast heroes: Doctor’s chance visit saves lives

A SENIOR medical officer in Moranbah had just 15 minutes to prepare for a mass casualty event after an horrific underground mine explosion.

Deborah Simmons, an anaesthetist with Mackay Hospital and Health Service, had just left Moranbah Hospital after training staff for Covid-19 when she got a call there had been an explosion.

"It was just lucky that I was in the area at the time," she said.

"We just had about 15 minutes to get ready for those patients coming in."

Dr Simmons and a team of nurses prepared for the worst-case scenario after they received the devastating news about the explosion.

Over the next three hours, Dr Simmons and the staff treated the workers as they were rushed to hospital.

She said it was a team effort from staff to save the lives of four critically-injured workers.

A fifth worker did not require lifesaving treatment.

Dr Simmons said it was a "fluke" she had arrived at the hospital to give Covid-19 training just hours before Wednesday's explosion.

Dr Deborah Simmons. Picture: Daryl Wright
Dr Deborah Simmons. Picture: Daryl Wright

 

She said the mine workers' airways had been exposed to fumes, which caused significant breathing issues.

Four of the five men were intubated and given pain medication while being prepared to be flown to Brisbane.

"What happens when someone has facial burns is, they breathe in hot fumes and there is a swelling of the airway over a short period of time," she said.

"So they could all talk to us when they first came in.

"While I was dealing with the first patient, the nursing staff were doing a brilliant job of giving them pain medication and talking to them to try to relax them."

Dr Simmons said the men remained calm while at the hospital.

"They were just talking about the fact that they were in pain," she said.

"They were concerned about their pain and making sure they were looked after."

Dr Simmons and the hospital team spent three hours looking after the patients and preparing them for their transfer to Brisbane.

Mines Minister Anthony Lynham yesterday praised Dr Simmons and the other staff for their courageous efforts.

"Deb and her team, in my view, are heroes," Dr Lynham said.

 

Dr Deborah Simmons with Mines Minister Anthony Lynham in Moranbah. Picture: Daryl Wright
Dr Deborah Simmons with Mines Minister Anthony Lynham in Moranbah. Picture: Daryl Wright

 

Dr Simmons applauded the extraordinary efforts of all the Moranbah nursing staff in dealing with the fallout of such a tragedy.

"I think the real heroes are the nursing staff that stepped up to a job that nobody should be confronted with and they did marvellously," Dr Simmons said.

"It was this small rural hospital that has a two-bed emergency department that managed four patients that needed to be intubated and ventilated for three hours and had them ready for the retrieval teams to pick up.

"They are the ones that saved those people's lives."

Dr Simmons said after such a stressful afternoon, all staff involved spent half an hour debriefing on what had occurred.

"It is actually really difficult (to relax after), because obviously the adrenaline levels are way up high," she said.

"I usually sit down and watch some TV - I do something mind numbing and just try to let my brain settle."



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