Fremantle Sea Rescue work on Anna Brotherson during the Rottnest Swim. Picture: Fremantle Sea Rescue
The super-fit mother of three was just 1km from completing the solo 19.7km crossing last Saturday when she suddenly found it difficult to breathe.
The 43-year-old had experienced the pain barrier before, having made the swim in duos and teams previously, but she knew this time there was “something wrong” with her lungs.
She had been in the ocean for eight hours when her husband, Kim, who was paddling alongside, jumped into the water to assess her more closely and told her to stop.
At that moment, Anna fell unconscious and started to sink.
She had suffered a swimming-induced pulmonary oedema, which occurs when the lungs suddenly fill with body fluids. Her lung capacity was at 10 per cent and core body temperature had plummeted to 33C.
A mad scramble to grab Anna and pull her on board the support boat followed. First aid was started by her crew, which included two nurses — sister Sian Kelly and friend Natalie Male — before Fremantle Sea Rescue quickly arrived.
“I was close to the wind. A respiratory specialist told me later that I was minutes from death,” Anna said on Friday, six days after the swim. “But it was just my psyche not to stop. Everyone told me you have to dig deep, especially between 17 and 19km, and just keep swimming.
“Those who don’t quit, make it. So in my mind I thought, ‘I’m not cold, I don’t have hypothermia, I’m not going to quit, I’m going to make it’.”
The rescue crew inserted three intravenous lines to stabilise her, made sure her airway was as uncompromised as possible and rushed her to Fremantle then transferred her to Fiona Stanley Hospital.
Her family, who had been waiting for her on the island, made their way to the hospital.
When she finally regained consciousness after 45 minutes at the emergency department, Anna wondered what all the fuss was about.
“I knew it had gone south but I didn’t realise the severity of the situation. I just thought I was in emergency to be monitored,” Anna said as she recovered at home.
Anna urged others to make themselves aware of the risks of pulmonary oedema.
Having raised $21,500 for Parkinson’s WA, Anna said she would consider competing in the Rotto swim again, most likely as part of a team or duo.