Barrie Knightbridge was at home at Cooper's Beach last week, recovering from an illness that, according to the medical odds, he should not have survived.

And he credited the expert help he received from a St John crew on the the side of SH10 to surgeons at Auckland Hospital, for the fact that he was able to tell the tale.

At 83 Barrie still enjoys a round of golf once or twice a week. His handicap?

"She's sitting over there, talking on the phone" And he was planning to head out for a round almost four weeks ago when he began feeling unwell.

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He flagged the golf and his wife Elaine delivered him to his GP in Kaitaia instead. From there he went to Kaitaia Hospital, where all manner of tests failed to identify the problem, so the couple went home.

By evening he was in significant discomfort, and Elaine phoned for an ambulance. A crew was not immediately available, so she bundled Barrie into the car and they headed for Kaitaia.

They had only got as far as Lake Ohia, still more than 20km from the hospital, when Barrie passed out. By then it was dark, and all Elaine could do was keep driving. And then came the stroke of luck that might well have saved her husband's life.

Elaine saw the lights of an ambulance ahead, also travelling towards Kaitaia (with a patient from Doubtless Bay aboard). She managed to catch up and stop it, the crew working on Barrie on the side of the road for some time before delivering him to the hospital.

A rescue helicopter was called, and by 9.35pm Barrie and Elaine were on their way to Auckland.

"It was wonderful to see the lights of Auckland, and know we were almost there," Elaine said.

"A paramedic, a doctor and a flight nurse worked on Barrie throughout the flight," she added, "and he went straight to surgery when we arrived at Auckland Hospital."

He was by no means out of the woods though. By then the problem had been identified, as an abdominal aortic aneurism - Triple A - a condition that very few people survive, particularly if medical care is not immediately available.

Barrie bled so much (thanks to his taking blood thinners) that surgery could not be completed until the following day, reducing the odds of survival even more.

"The anaesthetist was so surprised to hear next day that I was still alive that she had to come and see for herself," Barrie said.

Last week he expressed his gratitude to the expert assistance he had received, from St John, staff at Kaitaia Hospital, the rescue helicopter crew and at Auckland Hospital.

"These people don't get enough praise," he said.

"Without all that they did for me I wouldn't be here now.

"You wouldn't believe how busy they are in Auckland, but everyone was just wonderful. I can't praise or thank them enough."