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Surfboard vs left eye

March 7, 2016

Retired General Practitioner, Dr Andrew Irwin, was enjoying his Tuesday morning surf on the outside reef off Fiji when a freak accident almost cost him his eye.

Dr Irwin was surfing in the tube, when a wave hit the back of his head pushing him down hard on to the front of his surfboard.

“It was very quick, like a martial arts hit, there was a ‘bang’ and straight away I knew it was my eye socket because all I could feel was a jiggered sharp line, which at the time I thought was bone, but it was in fact a fragment of the surfboard,” Dr Irwin recalls.

“I couldn’t see out of my eye, so at that stage I thought I had lost my eye which I was pretty angry about.”

The next challenge for Dr Irwin was to get back out through the surf break, paddling out to where the boats were. Thankfully one of the boats picked him up and took him to Lautoka, the second largest centre in Fiji.

Dr Irwin’s experience at Lautoka wasn’t pleasant and after three days he eventually arrived back to Melbourne and presented to the Eye and Ear’s Emergency Department early Friday morning.

Awaiting his arrival in ED was Associate Professor Alan McNab, Head of Orbital Plastic and Lacrimal Clinic and Clinical Director of Ophthalmology, Dr Mark McCombe.

Dr McNab: “There were three pieces of surfboard in his eye socket. He is an extremely lucky man. Lucky in two senses — one in that the eye was not more severely injured or destroyed, with the eyeball suffering a relatively minor injury and his vision likely to return to normal. Secondly the surfboard could have easily penetrated the bone between the eye socket and the brain, so he could have had a brain injury as well.”

Dr Iwin suffered what is technically called a penetrating orbital injury, with some foreign bodies (the surfboard), which as Dr McNab explains are generally uncommon injuries.

“They are much more common in warfare situations where bombs are blowing up. Andrew’s is probably one of the more dramatic injuries we would have seen.”

Luckily Andrew hasn’t lost any vision and is very likely to make a full recovery. Dr Irwin has had a lot of exposure with hospitals especially in the area of trauma medicine. He was so thankful for his treatment and the care received that he wrote a letter thanking all staff involved. An excerpt of his letter: “My experience at the Eye and Ear was exemplary at every level from reception, porter, emergency ward and theatre nurses, registrars, radiographer, ward doctor, anaesthetist, and retinal and orbit surgeons. The level of expertise, empathy and explanation was of the highest possible standard and very humbling to a doctor who has always strived for such excellence.”

image of Dr Andrew Irwin who had a piece of surfboard wedged in his eye
Dr Andrew Irwin

tip of Andrew's surfboard that was wedge in his eye
The tip of Andrew's surfboard