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Journey to heart and lung failure - and back

A SELF-CONFESSED ''typical Aussie male'', Paul Bramley was hardly going to overreact to a dose of the flu.

''Having worked in the bush most of my life, you chop half your arm off and you just keep going,'' says the 55-year-old construction contractor. ''I've had the flu before and very rarely have I even been to the doctor, but this one I just couldn't shake.''

So in April he ignored his growing discomfort and drove his truck across country, from Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory to Townsville in Queensland, and then down to NSW's Port Macquarie, where he collapsed within minutes of arriving.

After his heart stopped and his condition worsened despite conventional life support, an ECMO team was dispatched to ferry Bramley to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, where he was kept in a coma for a month while a machine performed his vital functions.

''The very day I started to respond to the oxygenator was the day they were thinking of turning it off,'' says Bramley, whose Christian faith has been strengthened by the experience. ''It was a pretty close call.''

He was never officially diagnosed with H1N1 flu, but Bramley understands the strain that felled him was at least very similar.


''It attacked the base of the lung and was sufficient to close the lungs down, which caused the cardiac arrest,'' he says.

Recuperation has been long and tough. Bramley still has trouble walking far; in the six weeks he spent inert on his back his muscles wasted, and it has been hard to regain strength in his legs.

But his heart and lungs are functioning well and he is confident he will be able to resume work, although perhaps no longer in tough country trades. He says it is important to him to honour the staggering efforts made to save him.

''Hospitals are a cost but they're also an investment,'' Bramley says. ''If you come out the end of the tube you're back in the workforce. We pay our debt by paying our taxes.''