Yeppoon local and keen spearfisherman, Damien Olsen, is lucky to be alive.
On January 19, 2014, a loaded spear gun resting on the side of a boat released and shot through his chest, missing his heart by 9mm.
“I was talking on the phone at the time and didn’t even know it had happened until one of the boys said, ‘Damien, you need to put your phone down. You’ve been shot!’” Damien recounts. “I looked down to see that the spear had entered just below my chest on one side and was protruding below my shoulder on the other side.”
Damien went into shock, struggling to breathe and struggling to talk, “I remember saying to the boys, get me a chopper, I need one, now.”
At the time of the accident, the boat was situated just off the shore of Miall Island. Damien and his mates travelled approximately 1km back to Great Keppel Island in the hope of medical treatment.
“Luckily, there were a couple of off-duty nurses on the Island who rushed down with a first aid kit, but soon realised that that wasn’t going to be of any help and called triple zero.” Damien recounts. “The nurses and my mates kept me calm while we waited for the helicopter to arrive.”
Upon arrival at the scene, the RACQ CapRescue crew had to reconfigure the aircraft to accommodate the spear protruding from Damien’s side. “I don’t remember the flight, or event what the inside of the chopper looked like, but I do remember talking to the crew on the Island about how much stuff they had to take out just to fit me in comfortably.”
The on-board medical crew stabilised Damien for around 20 minutes on the boat where the accident had occurred before loading him into the helicopter for the flight back to Rockhampton.
Damien’s injuries were extensive, with the spear gun tearing his esophagus, diaphragm, liver, and stomach. He was transported to Brisbane, where he underwent surgery to remove the spear and spent 15 days hospitalised. “The worst part was that I couldn’t eat or drink anything for 14 days!”
Damien made a remarkable recovery, “I think everyone was shocked to see me walking within a couple of days and back at work within 6 weeks,” Damien recalls. “The biggest thing was the damage to my diaphragm, which took months of physio for me to be able to breathe properly again.”
“I think it could have been a lot worse if the helicopter didn’t show up when it did. The crew were bloody good and without a doubt, they saved my life.”
Damien doesn’t spearfish anymore, but still enjoys heading out in the boat and casting a line, knowing that RACQ CapRescue will be there for him, his family, and his friends if they are ever in need.