Off-Duty Doctor Recalls Efforts To Save Port Macquarie Surfer's Life

Luisa Rubbo
Swellnet Dispatch

An off-duty emergency department doctor who helped save the life of a 44-year-old man bitten by a great white shark on a New South Wales beach a fortnight ago says it is "absolutely crazy" the surfer survived the attack. 

Doctor Kurt Durbridge was among the first responders who rushed to help Toby Begg on Lighthouse Beach, south of Port Macquarie, on the morning of August 25. Two weeks on, Dr Durbridge said it had been amazing to speak with Mr Begg on Wednesday from Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital.

"[Mr Begg] has still got a way to go, but he seems like he's in really in high spirits considering everything that's gone on," Dr Durbridge said. "He definitely sounds like he's a fighter and he's keen to try and get back to Port Macquarie as soon as possible.

"It's just beyond my level of comprehension and my rational brain to really piece it all altogether just how he's been able to survive — just absolutely crazy."

Recalling the morning, Dr Durbridge said he had been heading in for a surf when he saw a bunch of surfers "all kind of scrambling in quite frantically all at once, which is quite an odd thing to see".

Lifesaving actions

Dr Durbridge, along with a work colleague who was a nurse and was out surfing, raced to the shoreline to help. "I think I remember thinking, 'Yes, he's still with us', and we just went straight to the high water line," he said.

Unbeknownst to Dr Durbridge, his work colleague had already applied a tourniquet. "When we got him to the high water line, I looked up…that legrope was already on Toby, approximately on his thigh, and tightened up," he said.

"For me, that action was just so important."

Dr Durbridge said seeing Mr Begg with his eyes open and moving his arm was "a bit of a surreal moment" as he tried to reassure the then-critically injured surfer. "I tried to reassure him that everything was going to be okay, and found out his name, and just kind of tried my best to reassure him," he said. 

Toby Begg is continuing to recover in Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital (Photo Facebook)

He said the moment the ambulance drove away from the beach with Mr Begg inside was immensely relieving. 

"That was the first time I was like, 'Far out, if he's still with us now, if he can make it to hospital alive, he might actually live'."

Overwhelmed by response

Dr Durbridge said he was overwhelmed by how well everybody had responded. "What I did was a part of it, but what [the nurse] did, what the other surfers did helping to drag him to the shore, all the active bystanders — that was so important," he said.

Dr Durbridge said the "freak incident" had made him think twice about going surfing, but believed in time he would get back to his normal self.

"For now I've just been for a little swim, and I'm just building up the courage to get back in the water," he said.

University of New England psychology lecturer Amanda Jefferys said Dr Durbridge's reaction was a normal response.

Port Macquarie lifeguards launched a drone in an effort to find the shark involved.(ABC Mid North Coast: Emma Siossian)

But she did advise people who were experiencing ongoing difficulties to seek professional help.

"If you're finding yourself thinking about this too much or fearful of approaching the water, or having reactions that stop you from living life, then you should definitely reach out," Dr Jefferys said. "And just for everyone, the first point of call is your GP."

© Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.



stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Friday, 8 Sep 2023 at 2:25pm

Well worth reading the following extended account from Kurt:


san Guine's picture
san Guine's picture
san Guine Friday, 8 Sep 2023 at 3:10pm

Wow that's heavy, great teamwork by all involved to save Toby.

I recall many years ago, being first on the scene at an industrial accident that killed 4 of my colleagues, it was very surreal (due the extent of the destruction I witnessed).
Oddly, I also remember being very calm and in the moment...

southernraw's picture
southernraw's picture
southernraw Saturday, 9 Sep 2023 at 11:43am

Geez, heavy mate.

san Guine's picture
san Guine's picture
san Guine Monday, 11 Sep 2023 at 5:03pm

Yeah SR,
Something about the way that the doctor wrote, triggered that memory for me. It was about 35 years ago and I actually hadn't thought about it for 10 years...

southernraw's picture
southernraw's picture
southernraw Saturday, 9 Sep 2023 at 11:43am

Thanks for sharing this Stu.
Amazing effort Kurt. What a harrowing story. Gave me the chills but what an incredible effort by all.
And to Toby, heal up champ. Sending lots of good thoughts.

Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake's picture
Westofthelake Friday, 8 Sep 2023 at 2:35pm

That sure was an emotional account. Talk about cool under pressure. I often think how I would react in a similar situation, how useful I could be, especially since I'm not a fan of excess blood. Hope Toby makes a full and speedy recovery and is able to get back into the brine.

simba's picture
simba's picture
simba Friday, 8 Sep 2023 at 4:07pm

Emotionally drained after reading that story.........Sincerely wish Toby all the best with his recovery and whats in front of him and as to Kurt and all the other people who helped Toby well done ....

joesydney's picture
joesydney's picture
joesydney Saturday, 9 Sep 2023 at 12:30am

Fully - my teeth were gritted!

Standupgoleft's picture
Standupgoleft's picture
Standupgoleft Saturday, 9 Sep 2023 at 7:24am

Traumatic glad you all were there! Always hope thats the case for victims! Heavy