Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Monday, July 13, 1998 Published at 15:55 GMT 16:55 UK


Brain surgery? I'll look in the toolshed

Dr Steve Hindley: outback hero

A British GP saved a man's life in the Australian outback by performing brain surgery with a rusty drill found in a school tool shed.

Dr Hindley shows how he did it, Val Jones reports
Steve Hindley, 42, was on just the second day of his job as the only doctor in the remote town of Ravensthorpe when Aussie-rules football player Hayden McGlinn was brought in to the tiny hospital.

The 23-year-old had collapsed after hitting his head in a collision with another player. McGlinn remembered nothing of the collision, but developed a headache and had several seizures.

Act quickly

As his condition worsened Dr Hindley realised he had to act quickly to relieve pressure on the brain from a blood clot.

With no facilities to perform the intricate neuro-surgery operation he had to improvise with a manual brace-and-bit drill normally used for DIY woodwork.

Afterwards Mr McGlinn was successfully transferred to a specialist unit where he is now recovering.

[ image: Hayden McGlinn was minutes from death]
Hayden McGlinn was minutes from death
Dr Hindley said: "It was the second day of my job and they telephoned me to say this chap had been brought in off the football field with a head injury.

"At first he was just a bit confused and not talking properly but it very quickly became clear that he was bleeding in his skull and he wasn't in a good way.

"I had arranged to have him flown to the neuro-surgery unit in Perth but he was deteriorating so quickly it was pretty obvious he would have died before he got there."

Stopped breathing

He and his team of nurses did everything they could with the available medical equipment and drugs but Mr McGlinn's condition worsened and he stopped breathing at one point.

"It got to the stage when there was only one thing left to do and that was to drill a hole in his head to allow the clot to drain and stop the pressure building up.

"It's the kind of thing that most doctors know the principles of but not the practicalities.

Dr Stephen Hindley: had only been in town one day
"But it was either do the operation however we could, or let him die.

"I asked them to find me a drill and initially they brought one from the town's dentist but we couldn't get it to work so then I said I didn't care what sort of drill they got me."

Frantic search

[ image: Dr Hindley with the drill]
Dr Hindley with the drill
After a frantic search the injured player's team mates and friends managed to find a drill in the school shed and, after sterilising it and consulting with the neuro-surgery unit at Perth's Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Dr Hindley carried out the delicate operation.

Mr McGlinn is now in a stable condition at the Perth hospital where spokeswoman Priscilla Fouracres said he owed his life to the British doctor.

She said: "The boy's condition deteriorated so quickly if he had not done what he did he would definitely have died before they got him to hospital."

'Real hero'

The injured sportsman's father John described Dr Hindley's handywork as "the best bush medicine we have ever seen".

"The doctor saved our son. He's a real hero.

"We will never be able to thank him enough."

But Dr Hindley is keen to play down his role in the drama which has turned him into a celebrity in the town which is 300 miles southeast of Perth and has a population of just 300.

"It's nice to have helped but it's very embarrassing to be given the credit for something that was a team effort: other people did a lot to save his life, it wasn't just me.

"Nurses came in who weren't on duty to help out. He was a very popular lad and they all knew him and I thought they did extremely well."

Dissatisfied with NHS

Before his move to Australia Dr Hindley worked as a GP in Perranporth in Cornwall but decided to emigrate because he was dissatisfied working in the NHS.

His job in Ravensthorpe is only a four-week locum which ends in two weeks when he moves to a permanent job in Tasmania.

One of Dr Hindley's former colleagues in north Cornwall, Dr Peter Merrin, said: "I do not think anything would surprise me about Steve.

"He is someone who has always had confidence in his own abilities, and whose medicine has always been first class.

"He is not really afraid of any situation, and has got initiative."

Dr Merrin said surgery of that type was usually carried out at neuro surgical units, and it was "almost unheard of" for someone to carry it out "blind" without a brain scan - let alone a GP.

Courage needed

John Miles, senior neurosurgeon at the Walton Centre in Liverpool, said the operation performed by Manchester-born Dr Hindley needed "courage and good training".

"A blood clot like this is the biggest threat in any sort of injury in which a skull fracture has occurred.

"Quick action is totally critical - you can go from being completely awake to being dead in under an hour."

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |

Health Contents

Background Briefings
Medical notes
In this section

Disability in depth

Spotlight: Bristol inquiry

Antibiotics: A fading wonder

Mental health: An overview

Alternative medicine: A growth industry

The meningitis files

Long-term care: A special report

Aids up close

From cradle to grave

NHS reforms: A guide

NHS Performance 1999

From Special Report
NHS in crisis: Special report

British Medical Association conference '99

Royal College of Nursing conference '99