Australian sailor stranded at sea could face ‘huge’ health implications

Australian sailor stranded at sea could face ‘huge’ health implications

Sailor and dog survive 3 months at sea

Tim Shaddock was travelling from Mexico to French Polynesia when weeks into the voyage, in the Pacific Ocean, a storm hit.

The 51-year-old Sydney native, who had his dog Bella on board, set off on the adventure three months ago.

The duo were saved when a helicopter working with a tuna trawler spotted them.

He told Australia’s 9News: “I have been through a very difficult ordeal at sea.

“I’m just needing rest and good food because I have been alone at sea a long time. Otherwise I’m in very good health.”

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Michael Porter, senior lecturer in Medicine, Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology in the School of Medicine at UCLan, said being stranded for a long period of time can potentially have huge implications on both a person’s physical and mental health.

In extreme circumstances, physical and mental health are closely linked and can have a huge impact on each other.

He explained the impact it can have on physical health: “Thanks to our ancient ancestors, who had to survive periods of starvation, our bodies are extremely adaptable to times where we have either no or very limited food available.

“Our bodies can rapidly adapt to keep us alive during difficult times, effectively switching to a ketogenic diet where we ‘eat’ our own fat reserves.

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“We must remember that, in times of stress, evolution has given us the ability to be almost “superhuman”, otherwise the human species would never have survived this long or spread to every corner of the planet, against all odds.

“Water is usually the bigger challenge, but our bodies can adapt to very low levels of water and can also absorb it from any fresh food. Our bodies also start to reabsorb most of the water in our body, for instance, minimising any loss by concentrating our urine.

“Longer term, if we can’t get enough water the kidneys will start to malfunction, but the body can survive on very little. When water becomes more plentiful, there is often little or no impact to the person.”

The effects on mental health can often be far more challenging, said Porter.

The determination to survive and stay positive can often play a bigger role than survival experience, although they often come hand-in-hand.

He said: “If someone is stranded for a long period of time, depression and stress can also have an impact on health, resulting in a suppressed immune system, heart attacks, strokes and a range of other conditions.

“We are also social creatures and isolation can have a huge impact on people who are stranded and the presence of another creature, in this case a dog, can make all the difference to maintaining a positive attitude.

“The importance of a positive attitude can even be seen in the story of the castaway Alexander Selkirk, the real-life story behind the fictional Robinson Crusoe. Alexander, stranded for over four years, was both in good physical health and also in very good mental health, when he was eventually rescued in 1709. The captain who rescued him said ‘one may see that solitude and retirement from the world is not such an insufferable state of life as most men imagine’.”

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