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Horror holiday in Fiji after Kiwi snorkeler's head sliced open by boat propeller

Author
Raphael Franks,
Publish Date
Mon, 2 Oct 2023, 8:36pm
Kiwi man Karain Eketone is recovering after a horrific injury while snorkelling in Fiji. Photo / Susan Eketone
Kiwi man Karain Eketone is recovering after a horrific injury while snorkelling in Fiji. Photo / Susan Eketone

Horror holiday in Fiji after Kiwi snorkeler's head sliced open by boat propeller

Author
Raphael Franks,
Publish Date
Mon, 2 Oct 2023, 8:36pm

Warning: Graphic content

Hamilton man Karain Eketone’s skull was sliced open by a boat’s propeller while snorkelling in Fiji, turning his 25th wedding anniversary into a harrowing near-death experience.

When Eketone was hit by the boat off the island of Dravuni on July 17, his heart stopped, but a witness who swam to his aid revived him after giving CPR.

Eketone suffered a traumatic head injury and one of his arteries in his right arm was severed.

His wife, Susan Eketone, made the horrific phone to their four children, telling them what happened and that their father was unlikely to survive.

Then, after a medical evacuation flight to New Zealand and a successful surgery, doctors found a cancerous tumour in Eketone’s brain.

Speaking from their home in Hamilton and also suffering laryngitis, Susan Eketone told the Herald her husband was in good spirits, still making jokes, and she was focusing on what she called positive circumstances of the incident.

“Our faith is such a big part of our life, and it has been the reason why I’ve been able to kind of just let things happen - trusting whatever happens and knowing it’s part of his plan,” she said.

Eketone, 42, also a grandfather of two, desperately tried to protect himself as the boat sped towards him, raising his arms to his head.

Kiwi man Karain Eketone’s skull was sliced open by a boat’s propeller while snorkelling in Fiji, turning his and his wife’s “much-needed break” into a near-death experience. Photo / Susan Eketone

Kiwi man Karain Eketone’s skull was sliced open by a boat’s propeller while snorkelling in Fiji, turning his and his wife’s “much-needed break” into a near-death experience. Photo / Susan Eketone

Eketone’s wife had left him to snorkel while she headed back to the cruise ship they were staying on, but when she turned back and couldn’t see him in the water she began to panic.

“They [local Fijians] told me someone had been run over by a boat. I noticed one had my passport photo and was running around the island,” she said.

“Then a couple of medics were walking around with the same piece of paper. They told me my husband had been run over and he was okay.

“But when I got back to the cruise ship, the doctor met me and told me they had to put him into an induced coma because his brain had come through his fracture and was exposed.”

She wasn’t allowed to see her husband and was told to phone her children to tell them Eketone wasn’t going to make it.

Eketone was flown by helicopter to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva. His wife waited five hours to get on a boat to follow him there.

They had difficulties leaving Fiji, as Medavac needed the hospital to sign off paperwork and then border officials tried to scam her for more money through departure taxes, she claimed.

“That was a big drama on its own,” she said.

“They were really trying to take advantage of the situation. I was able to keep myself in a level headspace and do what I needed to.

“When I finally got on that plane [to New Zealand] I was so grateful. The doctor from Brisbane had brought a whole lot of supplies with him.”

Susan Eketone (left) told the Herald her husband, Karain Eketone, was in good spirits, still making jokes, and she was focusing on the positives after he was run over by a boat in Fiji.

Susan Eketone (left) told the Herald her husband, Karain Eketone, was in good spirits, still making jokes, and she was focusing on the positives after he was run over by a boat in Fiji.

Eketone then “flatlined” a further three times on the medical evacuation flight.

“When we got [to Waikato Hospital], where the best neurological team is, because they were expecting us hours earlier, the team that we were supposed to meet had finished their shifts and gone home.

“Then I was told he’s probably not going to make it. Six hours is the limit for the brain to be exposed. It had now been 30 hours.”

Doctors at Waikato Hospital told her how he had drowned, been revived, and barely survived the flight.

“He didn’t bleed out through his artery, which I didn’t even know was severed at the time.”

Surgeons performed a craniotomy on Eketone - a procedure to remove part of his skull and a portion of his brain - and a plastic surgeon repaired Eketone’s artery.

“I got the phone call to say he survived the operation. They still didn’t know if he would wake up and recognise anyone or whether he’d be paralysed - there was a whole list of things they felt he wouldn’t be able to do.

“The worst case scenario is that he would die of an infection. They were just pumping him with all these antibiotics and wanted to keep him sedated for a few weeks.”

Despite hospital staff calling to tell her Eketone had survived, she expected another phone call within minutes saying he had died.

Several days later, though, a doctor noticed Eketone, still sedated, was moving his feet to music playing on the radio in the intensive care unit.

“He said, ‘You know, he’s responding.’ He took him off the sedation to see what would happen and he woke up.

“The first thing he said to me was, ‘What happened?’.

“Looking back now at the whole situation, I guess I just always had hope that things were going to be okay.”

Due to the brain injury, Eketone now only has about 30 per cent of his vision left. He also suffers from hemiopia - only being able to see half of his visual field.

“[The cancer] was just another layer on top of everything else. I thought, ‘If we survive [the initial injuries] then we’ll go to the next’.”

Eketone will have surgery to remove the cancer in time.

“The silver lining is that if he didn’t have the accident - apparently renal cancer is not something you will find until it’s too late - they found it at stage one.

“It’s been a really interesting experience but I think it’s been really easy to focus on the blessings of everything. My husband is the kind of person who is just so optimistic and sees the funny side of everything.”

One of Eketone’s friends, Andrew Higgins, started a Givealittle page to fundraise for medical expenses and support his family. It has so far received over $20,000.

Raphael Franks is an Auckland-based reporter who covers breaking news. He joined the Herald as a Te Rito cadet in 2022.

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