He’s received the Star of Courage, a Medal of the Order of Australia, the Most Admirable Order of the Direkgunabhorn, a Flinders University Distinguished Alumni Award – and now joint 2019 Australian of the Year Dr Richard Harris can add an honorary doctorate from his alma mater to his many accolades.
Widely known as Harry, Dr Harris is a specialist anaesthetist who completed his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery at Flinders University in 1988.
Dr Harris’ medical interests have a broader base. He has managed to combine his taste for adventure with his medical practice and a lifelong interest in the underwater world. This led him into the field of diving and hyperbaric medicine.
His work at South Australia’s emergency medical retrieval service (MedSTAR) as an aeromedical consultant continues to challenge him with the care of critically ill patients in remote and austere environments.
An experienced medical retrieval expert and accomplished cave diver, Dr Harris was requested to join an international rescue operation in July 2018 to rescue 12 boys and their soccer coach from within the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Thailand.
His rare and unique deep cave-diving skills were pivotal in assisting rescuers to navigate the cave system, said to be among the most dangerous in the world.
Dr Harris conducted initial medical assessments on the boys and advised authorities on the safest extraction methods. During the evacuation, he gave the medical all-clear for each boy and administered anaesthesia before they left the cave.
He was the last person out of the cave each day.
The rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach from a cave in Thailand is not the first time Dr Harris has been involved in a harrowing and difficult cave retrieval mission.
His cave diving skills were also called upon in 2011, when he had the difficult task of recovering the body of his friend and Flinders graduate Agnes Milowka, after she ran out of air in Tank Cave near Mount Gambier in South Australia.
Dr Harris was among the expert cave divers who helped police in the recovery of her body, called upon to assist because of the complexities of the almost eight-kilometre stretch of twisting underwater passages.
Dr Harris is an outstanding role model in all that he does – from his specialist anaesthetist skills to his experience in the field of diving and hyperbaric medicine. His courage and humble, down to earth nature combined with his commitment to saving lives, certainly embodies the values of Flinders.
Flinders University is proud to have a graduate of Dr Harris’ calibre as part of our alumni community, a worthy recipient of a Doctor of the University.