Location: Mareeba, Queensland, Australia
Date: August 31, 1991
We begin outside the small town of Mareeba, Queensland, Australia, a country known for its exotic wildlife, and untamed beauty. "We've got the top eleven deadly snakes in the world here in Australia," says snake expert Ted Mertens. "And the most dangerous snake here is definitely the taipan. You can end up getting multiple bites in the same amount of time that it takes a normal snake to strike once."
Brian Eakin was just visiting the area, and had gone down to the Barron River to go swimming with his family. "I grew up with all the stories of taipan snakes, and I always remind the kids if they go down to the river to be careful where they're walking. Don't be running through the bushes, and that sort of stuff," recalls Brian. "For an average healthy adult male, given a decent bite from a taipan, 10 minutes to a half an hour without first aid, and they're cactus!" says Mertens.
Clive Brady lived near the river, and was on his way home after enjoying a swim. After his swim, as Clive walked along the bank of the river on his way home, a snake leaped from the ground and bit him several times in the leg. Clive screamed and fell to the ground, immediately overcome by dizziness, blurred vision, and nausea. Clive thought he had been bitten by a taipan, whose unique venom contains a detergent factor designed to move its poison through the blood system in a matter of thirty to sixty seconds.
Brian and his teenage son ran across the water to Clive. Brian realized Clive needed immediate medical attention, so he left his son with him and ran to find help. By a stroke of luck, the first building Brian encountered was a local hospital. When the head nurse called for an ambulance, nurse trainee Bernie Jo Tonon, figuring the patient wouldn't be suffering from anything all that serious, grabbed some bandages and ran with Brian to Clive.
"I was glad she came with me," recalls Brian. "It was a great relief to know there was professional help." "I didn't have any experience as a nurse," says Bernie Jo. "As a training nurse, it's just making beds." Bernie Jo was shocked to discover that Clive was indeed in dire straits, and that his condition was deteriorating by the second, He was sweating profusely and his breathing was labored. Bernie Jo tried to keep Clive conscious by talking to him, but before the ambulance arrived, he lost consciousness.
Within moments, paramedic Steve Qazim was on the scene, and with Brian's help, carried a stretcher and medical equipment across the river. Clive was loaded on the stretcher and the group carried him to the opposite bank, where he took another turn for the worse. Bernie Jo noticed that Clive had turned blue and had stopped breathing. While Steve retrieved oxygen from the ambulance, Bernie Jo administered rescue breathing. A moment later, Bernie Jo began CPR, which quickly got his heart started again. "I was racing to beat the clock," recalls Steve. "Clive was running out of time. This was very obvious to me." As the ambulance departed with Clive, Brian's son mentioned that Clive had left his hat on the other side of the river. Replied Brian, "Where Clive's going, I don't think he'll need a hat anymore."
At the hospital, Clive was rushed into the emergency room and his wife and family arrived to await news of his condition. A blood sample was taken from Clive, but doctors could not afford to wait for the results. He was administered an anti-venom that was used as an antidote for all Australian poisonous snake bites. "I knew by then that Clive wouldn't have a good chance of making it," recalls Bernie Jo. "It felt like a leaden heart to go in and see his wife sitting there. I didn't know what to say to the lady."
Results of Clive's blood sample revealed that he was in fact bitten by a taipan. He now was administered a specific anti-venom to counteract taipan venom and was hospitalized for six days. Remarkably, Clive did survive the snake bites and recovered without any long-term side effects. However, Clive did suffer one temporary side effect. The venom caused the hair on his leg to fall out. Six months later, it grew back thicker than ever. Says Clive, who's bald, "Some of me mates said, 'Well, next time get him to bite on the head. It'll put a bit there, too' ".
Friends tell Clive he survived because God didn't want him yet. But Clive, who says he's not a "religious bloke," doesn't buy that argument. "It was the likes of Bernie Jo and the nurses and the doctors. They're the ones that helped me. If God's such a great fellow, why'd he let a bloody snake like that bite me?" Bernie Jo doesn't think she did anything special, just what she was trained to do. Says Bernie Jo, "I think Clive was born under a lucky star."