Lewis Crathern was suffering from severe hypoxia as a result of water he aspirated into his lungs after an accident that almost saw him drown.
He woke up six days later in Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital.
“The whole experience was surreal; I don’t recall anything about the accident", said 30-year-old Crathern, who is three times British kitesurfing champion.
He was injured while competing in the semi-finals of the Red Bull King of the Air competition on 7 February. He attempted a manoeuvre known as a megaloop, but stalled his kite and smashed into the surf, knocking him unconscious.
“The accident was partly just some bad fortune as well as a little pilot error,” stated Crathern, who hails from Worthing in West Sussex.
He is particularly thankful for the two quick-thinking fellow kitesurfers, Andries Fourie from South Africa and Reno Romeu of Brazil, who pulled him to the surface and kept his head above water after he was knocked unconscious during the competition.
“I lost control and fell from approximately 18 meters, hitting my head hard when I landed. I owe my life to the two kite surfers, the medics who were on the beach, as well as Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital where I received superb medical care. I am so grateful to them all.”
Crathern's parents were deeply concerned about his condition and flew out from the UK to see him. “My parents were there when I woke up,” said Crathern, who is also a commentator and coach.
“Besides experiencing some tiredness, I am now feeling better, but there is still a lot of rehabilitation that I need to go through before I am 100% fit again."
He said he is looking forward to heading home on 15 March. "The doctors recommended I do not fly until then, and that I lay off kitesurfing for at least six weeks, but I can’t wait to get back on a board again."
In the meanwhile, Crathern said he will use his enforced break to do some kitesurfing competition commentating and mentor schoolchildren.
Crathern’s treating doctor, specialist physician and intensivist Dr Kim Barnard, who practises at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital, said that the doctors and nursing staff were extremely concerned about Crathern’s condition when he was admitted.
“Thanks to the excellent care provided to Crathern at the hospital’s emergency department by the medical officers Dr Brett Lesley and Dr Karishma Rama as well, as the nursing team, he was promptly resuscitated and stabilised.”
A need for mechanical ventilation
Dr Barnard pointed out that Crathern, having aspirated a large amount of water into his lungs, required mechanical ventilation.
She said when Crathern arrived at the emergency department, he was suffering from severe hypoxia as a result of the water he aspirated into his lungs, meaning the oxygen levels in his blood were extremely low.
"This can potentially result in multiple organs becoming damaged, including the heart and brain. The salty water that he inhaled could also have potentially caused severe damage to his lung tissue, and permanent damage to the lungs," she said.
“We mechanically ventilated Crathern for six days in our intensive care unit where he was monitored continuously, and to date he has not suffered any complications. He made a remarkable recovery and, after a period of rehabilitation, was discharged from hospital on 19 February and came for a follow-up appointment on 3 March."
World class care
Crathern is impressed by the level of medical care he received during his hospitalisation in Cape Town, noting that it was nothing short of world class.
“I used to serve tea to patients at a Worthing hospital when I was a youngster, but have never had to stay overnight in hospital before, and have certainly never experienced a private hospital.”
The Red Bull King of the Air competition was held in Cape Town between 30 January and 14 February.
Crathern said that the “Cape Doctor”, the powerful south-easterly wind so prevalent in the Western Cape at this time of the year, makes the competition a highlight on the international kitesurfing calendar.
The competitors are touted to be among the best aerial kitesurfers in the world and are not only judged on the altitude and flight distance they are able to attain, but also on the style and technical difficulty of their jumps.