Truckie's bizarre brush with death

'I felt like it was going to explode'

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2011
HUMAN MICHELIN MAN: Steven McCormack recovers in Whakatane Hospital after an agonising compressed air accident that inflated his body. He says it made him feel like the Michelin Man.
WHAKATANE BEACON
HUMAN MICHELIN MAN: Steven McCormack recovers in Whakatane Hospital after an agonising compressed air accident that inflated his body. He says it made him feel like the Michelin Man.

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Steven McCormack  lay screaming in agony as compressed air flooded into his body, filling it up to his eyes and squeezing his heart.

"I felt the air rush into my body and I felt like it was going to explode from my foot," he said.

The truck driver's bizarre brush with death began when he fell from his rig on to a compressed air fitting, which pierced the flesh of his left buttock. Air, compressed to 120 pounds per square inch, flooded into his body.

"It felt like I had the bends, like in diving. I had no choice but just to lie there, blowing up like a balloon.

"In a matter of minutes my body blew to twice the size. The ambulance took half an hour to get [to hospital] ... so I was lying on the back of the truck in agony. They went to put a drip in me, they put the needle in and it spat the needle out."

His skin was "like a pork roast", crackling on the outside but soft underneath. "I really feel like the Michelin Man."

Whakatane Hospital surgeon Barnaby Smith said Mr McCormack's life was at risk, with air in "all sorts of nooks and crannies. It's certainly not one you find in the textbook. It was all over his belly, chest, face – it was up to his eyelids."

Air in Mr McCormack's chest was squeezing his heart, threatening to cut off its blood supply. A chest drain was inserted to release the gas. The air had separated fat from muscle, almost breaking his skin. Fortunately for him, it had not entered the bloodstream.

His mother, Tui, said her son "tripled" in size after Saturday's accident at Waiotahi Contractors in Whakatane. "He was all blown up. We were worried he wasn't going to pull through."

Mr McCormack said his workmates – Jason Wenham, Ross Hustler and Robbie Petersen – saved his life. They heard his screams, and found him with the fitting hooked into his rear.

Mr Wenham said his mate was in a lot of pain. "It was terrible to see him like that."

The brass fitting made a hole the size of a small fist in Mr McCormack's buttock. Mr Petersen turned off the air supply, and Mr Wenham put Mr McCormack in the recovery position, helping him to breathe.

Mr Wenham was reluctant to take credit for saving his mate's life. "I just put him where he was most comfortable."

-With NZPA

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- The Dominion Post

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