Dr Richard Harris, the Adelaide anaesthetist who played a crucial role in rescuing 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach from a flooded cave last year, has been award the prestigious AMA Gold Medal.
AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone, made the announcement at the AMA National Conference tonight.
“Dr Harris’s credentials to receive the AMA Gold Medal are self-evident,” Dr Bartone said.
“In all aspects of his career, he has displayed all the attributes of the best of the medical profession – compassion, dedication, and excellence.
“His contributions to the medical profession, to emergency services, and to humanitarian work would be enough on their own to warrant recognition.
“Dr Harris worked with AusAID in the Pacific for two years, providing anaesthesia and intensive care services in Vanuatu’s developing medical system.
“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 Harris became the centre of world attention in 2018 when he and his dive partner, veterinarian Craig Challen, took part in the heroic and dangerous rescue of the Wild Boars soccer team after 17 days trapped in Thailand’s Tham Luang cave system.
“A Thai Navy SEAL had already died during the dangerous mission, and Dr Harris and the other rescuers risked their lives to swim, walk, and crawl to reach the boys.
“Dr Harris assessed the boys medically, and determined the order in which they should be helped out.
“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.
“The priority of doctors is ‘first, do no harm’. 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.
“It took three days to bring all 12 boys and their coach out of the cave. With the world watching, Dr Harris was the last person out.
“Dr Harris is the 2019 Australian of the Year for South Australia, and the joint Australian of the Year with Dr Challen. He has been awarded Australia’s second-highest civilian bravery award, the Star of Courage (SC), the medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), and has been granted royal honours by the King of Thailand.
“Dr Richard Harris is truly a worthy winner of the AMA Gold Medal.”