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28 July 2011

Heroes to rescue of N3 patient

Bronwyn Fourie

With no way to manoeuvre out of the snow and road-closure traffic at Van Reenen’s Pass, an ambulance transporting a post-operative patient from Witbank to Tongaat was trapped for 24 hours, rapidly running out of oxygen needed to keep him alive.

If it were not for two Good Samaritan paramedics helping those stuck in the snow, and co-ordinated efforts with N3TC, the SANDF, Langamed Ambulance Service paramedics and other medical service providers, Lennon Pillay may not have reached his Victoria Hospital destination alive.

Alongside Pillay in the Langamed ambulance, his sister, Ronel Naidoo, sat “terrified and nervous”.

“We just wanted to get out of there, we were running out of oxygen,” she said.

Pillay had undergone a back operation following a car accident in Joburg where he was living and working, but his condition deteriorated while coming out of the anaesthetic. He was being transferred to the Tongaat hospital, as his family live in the area.

The ambulance arrived at Van Reenen’s Pass at about 7pm on Monday.

Fortunately for the family, Philip Hull and Barry Niemand, two volunteers from Community Medical Services, were on hand to assist and supplemented the ambulance’s oxygen supply with their own. The SANDF also supplied oxygen for the patient.

Hull said they tried desperately to get the ambulance out of the snow and on to another route to Durban, but it was only the next day that they managed to free them using a grader.

“The military had put a chopper on standby for us, but obviously it couldn’t get in,” he said.

Through constant liaison with N3TC Route Control Centre, a priority route was organised and the volunteers escorted the ambulance, now equipped with enough oxygen, towards Ladysmith.

Langamed Witbank branch manager Mottie Nel said she had phoned every hour to check on the patient, as well as help co-ordinate, with the route control centre, another ambulance service, Sharaj.

Nel said the situation was “highly concerning”, and that although the ambulance had been equipped with extra oxygen, the long delay meant it had run out.

Apart from the military, N3TC, and the volunteers, Nel thanked Mounties Ambulance Service and KZN Private Ambulance Services for helping.

Naidoo also expressed her thanks to the Langamed paramedics.

Hull said this rescue was by far the most memorable, explaining how he and Niemand, from Pretoria, were only two of the volunteers from Community Medical Services.

Comprised of doctors, nurses and paramedics, the volunteers assist at Van Reenen’s Pass over long weekends and during adverse weather.

Arriving on Monday evening, each with a 4x4 vehicle, the pair had pulled free about 70 trapped vehicles.

Hull said the experience had been “incredible”, and that although he had been involved in helping people during the snowfalls in 2001, this was “three to four times worse”.

“The volume of snow, the rate it came down and the number of people caught was far worse. But if you look at the people who were stuck and were sitting around the fire together at the Caltex garage waiting for the road to be cleared, there was very little tension and anger.

“This could have been a massive disaster, but the way people came together was such a nice South African trait,” he said.

- The Mercury