Emergency anaesthetist Richard Harris, who helped rescue a boys’ soccer team from a flooded cave in Thailand last year, has been awarded the Australian Medical Association gold medal in Brisbane.
Dr Harris and his diving partner veterinarian Craig Challen gained worldwide attention when they rescued the Wild Boars soccer team after 17 days trapped in a flooded cave in Tham Luang in July.
On Saturday night, Dr Harris was awarded the medal at the AMA National Conference at The Sofitel Hotel in Brisbane.
This comes after the anaesthetist from Adelaide was named 2019 Australian of the Year for South Australia and the joint Australian of the Year with Dr Challen.
He has also received a medal of the Order of Australia and has been granted royal honours by the King of Thailand.
AMA president Dr Tony Bartone said Dr Harris’ credentials were self-evident and showed the best medical profession attributes of compassion, dedication and excellence.
“Dr Harris worked with AusAID in the Pacific for two years, providing anaesthesia and intensive care services in Vanuatu’s developing medical system,” he said.
“His love of diving led him into the field of hyperbaric medicine, and into search and rescue operations.
“Dr Harris established Australasia’s first sump rescue training course, and has built strong relationships with emergency services.”
Dr Bartone said Dr Harris was among the team who risked their lives to save the soccer team trapped in a cave in Thailand after a Thai Navy Seal died during the mission.
“Crucially, he used his anaesthetics expertise to sedate the boys with ketamin before divers guided them unconscious through the treacherous cave system, as there was a real danger that the boys might panic during the three hours of diving and swimming through narrow passages, and put themselves and their rescuers in danger,” he said.
“I can only imagine the range of emotions Dr Harris must have felt as he submerged that first unconscious boy to test the full face mask that would be used in the operation.”
Dr Bartone said it took three days to bring 12 boys and their coach out of the cave and Dr Harris was the last person to emerge from the water.
“Dr Richard Harris is truly a worthy winner of the AMA Gold Medal,” he said.