Rachael Shardlow was swimming miles from the ocean mouth of Queensland's Calliope River when she was stung on her legs by a box jellyfish.
Her 13-year old brother pulled her on to the shore and she told him that she could not see or breathe. Moments later she fell unconscious with the tentacles still wrapped around her limbs.
The venom of the box jellyfish is so overpoweringly painful that victims often go in shock and drown or die of heart failure before reaching shore.
There is no effective antivenom for its sting, which attacks the heart, nervous system and skin, inducing shooting muscle pain, vomiting and a rapid rise in blood pressure.
However, Rachael survived.
After being stung she was unconscious for half an hour. She suffered burn-like lashes to her legs and was put into an induced coma when she reached hospital. But after six weeks of treatment, she was able to go home.
Jamie Seymour, Zoology and tropical ecology associate professor at James Cook University, said her recovery after such an extensive sting was unheard of.
"I don't know of anybody in the entire literature we've studied who has had such an extensive sting and has survived," he said.
"When I first saw the pictures of the injuries I just went, 'you know to be honest, this kid should not be alive'. I mean they are horrific.
"Usually when you see people who have been stung by box jellyfish with that number of the tentacle contacts on their body, it's in a morgue."
Mr Seymour said that box jellyfish victims usually die within three minutes of being stung. His team now intend to study Rachael's survival in the hope that it will give them clues as to how they can help other patients.
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