On 23 April 2006 the Beaconsfield gold mine in Tasmania, Australia collapsed. Of the seventeen people working in the mine at the time of the collapse, fourteen escaped. One man lost his life, leaving Brant Webb and Todd Russell still alive in the collapsed mine. The situation was grim, Webb was unconscious for a short period of time and Russell was buried in rubble from the waist down. After freeing himself, Russell and Webb survived the first five days by drinking ground water. It wasn’t until the fifth day that the two men split their only food source, a muesli bar. After blasting away rock and forming a new tunnel, thermal imaging cameras and microphones revealed the two survivors. It was then that the two survivors were able to receive food, water and other necessities by PVC pipe. A nutritionist was on board the rescue team to suggest necessary foods for survival. The men were given five meals a day with choices of fish, red and white meats or sandwiches. Their ordeal lasted two weeks. The purpose of this essay is to analyze the survivors’ situation and make further suggestions as to the foods needed for survival in the mine as well as during the survivors’ week long recovery period.
The men were likely to be weak from lack of food for the first five days as well as dehydrated; ground water being their only water source for the initial five days after the collapse. The rescuers were right to supply the men with a consistent water supply. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations suggests replacing the salts in the body which are lost during dehydration; providing much needed energy. The survivors’ would benefit from “oral reydration drinks” (FAO, 2002). A drink that mixes a ½ teaspoon of salt and eight teaspoons of sugar with a litre of water would provide Russell and Webb the hydration their bodies needed as well as giving them a boost in energy by replacing lost salts.
Webb and Russell were in need of energy. The men were enclosed in a small area, suffering both mental and physical pain and they need to constantly be aware of their surroundings and moving debris when needed. Lucy Andrew from ABC news in Australia made an excellent point when discussing the body’s need for energy even when resting and during sleep. Energy is also needed to keep one’s lungs breathing, heart beating, kidney’s filtering and brain thinking (Andrew, 2006). “Fat has the most kilojoules” (measurements of energy) “per gram it provides us with the most energy we need to survive” (Andrew, 2006). High fat foods would be the best choice for the men while they were in the mine. Although the on-call nutritionist advised against this, studies have shown that fatty foods will help with energy, especially when combined with a higher protein intake. Not only would fat help with energy but it would give the men warmth during cold nights in the mine. Another energy booster, which the brain needs in order to function is glucose, sugar in the blood. Both brain and body need a steady supply of glucose. “Numerous studies have demonstrated that the normal rise in blood glucose that follows a meal or glucose drink is associated with improved mental efficiency, including memory, reaction times attention span and arithmetic ability” (European Nutrition Research, 2002). Energy provided by a glucose drink or food such as cereal and milk in the morning would provide the men with energy.
The increase in energy would improve the survivors’ mental status. The fear and depression these men felt while in the mine could have been helped with vitamin B-6, foods such as spinach, broccoli, bananas and salmon. The men were offered fish; salmon would have been their best choice. Studies mentioned previously suggested glucose as a main element in improved mental status. Between the five meals given to the survivors, small snacks of muffins or even a candy bar could have given the men a boost both physically and mentally. Carbohydrates help increase brain function, with a suggested 50 to 100 grams needed daily, men could have been given large baked potatoes and rice with their dinners of chicken or red meat. A meal of pasta once a day would have tremendous benefits for the men providing them with the carbohydrates and sugars need to enhance clear thinking and physical strength.
The men were likely to be suffering from fatigue given the lack of air and movement and increased stress. With this said, the men needed these previously mentioned energy boosters. “Analysis of pre-intervention data showed that those with a higher fibre intake reported less emotional distress, fewer cognitive difficulties, and lower levels of fatigue” (Scholey, Harper, Kennedy, 2001). To combine the previously mentioned foods with oatmeal, apples, lima beans and raisins; although maybe not the survivors’ favourite foods, would help with fatigue. A meal of chicken, rice and beans with whole grain toast then following up with a banana and apple, would have increased energy, combated fatigue, improved mental status and replenish missing salts and vitamins.
In general, energy and “brain food” seemed to have been ignored when providing food to the survivors while in the mine. The men could have benefited mentally if they were offered less traditional health foods, maybe even some junk food in between meals.
Russell and Webb sustained minimal injury given their grim and lengthy ordeal. Both men reported having injuries to the knees and vertebrae. Russell’s injuries included sciatic nerve pressure caused by the damaged vertebrae and Webb had an unspecified neck injury. While analyzing the week long recovery period, it was evident that the injuries to the back and knees will cause the men pain and complication for years if not a lifetime. Serious injuries to these areas of the body are not easily repaired and arthritis is a common ailment years after an injury to bone.
The long term rehabilitation will be of more concern than the initial week long recovery. The week long period should have consisted of twenty-four hour saline intravenous drip for dehydration and high protein intake to fight off infection and stabilize the immune system. “Dietary proteins are powerful compounds that build and repair the body tissues, from hair and fingernails to muscles” (Encarta, 2006). “Proteins speed up chemical reactions in the body, serve as chemical messengers, fight infection, and transport oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues” (Encarta, 2006). The short recovery time gave ample opportunity for the men to bulk up on high protein foods such as eggs, milk, meat, fish and poultry. Normally, men of average size need 57 grams of daily protein. However, because of the vulnerability of the men’s bodies, extra protein is needed during the recovery period. Just as the men were eating five meals a day while in the mine, they should continue this pattern for a few days afterward with foods such as, a large breakfast of eggs and bacon with a glass of milk and a meal of steak with rice and beans. As the days go by, they should begin to substitute two meals with protein bars and then, towards the end of the initial recovery period, cut back to three meals a day with a light snack of fruit or veggie sticks (or sunflower seeds for vitamin B-6). They key is to give the survivors’ bodies a large amount of protein to fight off initial problems of infection while giving them a boost to their immune system. Most importantly, the recovery week should consist of designing a long-term dietary plan.
While a balanced diet is suggested in general, the survivors’ will need to take extra measures to increase muscle and bone strength. Arthritis is a key problem which, in time, could develop in the survivors damaged bones. This is precisely why a daily regiment of calcium enriched foods and supplements need to be in place. Daily calcium supplements of 500 milligrams is recommended, taking into consideration that the men need to be eating foods which will give them at least 1000 milligrams of dietary calcium. A daily diet with one serving of milk, cheddar cheese and yogurt would give adequate calcium intake. In order to make the most of the calcium intake, the survivors need to take 5 to 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily (Higdon, Ph.D., 2003). This could be achieved in numerous ways. Fifteen minutes of sun exposure a day is a possibility; fish oils or fortified milk are as well. Given the injuries sustained by Webb and Russell, a Vitamin D and calcium supplement should be taken with a hardy breakfast of oatmeal and bananas (or other vitamin enriched fruits).
The men should maintain a diet which incorporates water soluble vitamins such as vitamin C, B1, B2, B12 and folic acid. The protein intake during the week recovery period will slowly be reduced to the recommended norm, as such it is important for the men to continue with daily vitamins and vitamin enriched foods. This will continue to boost the immune system and promote overall good health. Part of the long term dietary plan should include a serving of fresh fruit daily (contains needed vitamins E, B-6, C and A), plenty of leafy greens such as a salad with lunch and dinner (provides vitamins C, B-6, K and E) and at least two daily servings of green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. Overall the men should eat minimal fats, with bone injuries, any weight gain could lead to added pain and injuries. For the average 154 pound person the ideal meal will contain 56 grams of protein and only thirty percent of total calories should come from fat (Higdon, 2003).
Brent Webb and Todd Russell went through two weeks of extreme physical and mental trauma. The diet provided for them was adequate. Though given the opportunity, I would have suggested a more mentally stabilizing and infection fighting diet. Although the men were rehydrated properly with water and energy drinks, their fresh injuries should have been addressed with larger amounts of eggs, milk and larger amounts of fish (preferably salmon) and chicken. News reports indicated that eggs were only given at one meal and there was no mention of milk given at any time. The protein provided in these foods could have benefited the men with increased energy. Fruit could have provided the men with much needed vitamins to fight off infection. The men’s mental health was hardly addressed while in the mine. The survivors’ needed to keep their minds sharp; allowing them to react quickly to possible danger. High glucose foods and drink could have enhanced their reaction times and alertness. In times of stress and trauma, one should concern themselves with not only the immediate survival but as in the case of the Beaconsfield mine, creating a short term consistency in order to survive lengthy traumas. To do this the nutrition expert should have created a dietary plan which would promote long term benefits for the two weeks in which the miners were trapped. Understandably, the rescuers gave the men what they wanted to eat, rather than what they needed. However, with these measures, the men’s survival might not have been as successful as it was. There were many risks associated with the intake of improper foods. The survivors’ initial recovery period lasted a week. The reality of long term problems due to their injuries was not addressed thoroughly. Although their initial traumatizing ordeal is over, what type of preventative action is being taken for long term healing and maintenance? The bones are healing, but other problems can arise in time. A dietary plan for consistent vitamin intake and bone strengthening foods are critical.
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Darby, A (2006) They’re Alive; Miracle in Tasmania The Sydney Morning Herald: URL (consulted 15 September 2006) http://aww.smh.com.au/news/national/they’re-alive-miracle-in-tasmania/2006/04/30/1146335611785.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap3
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