Five seconds can change your life. Here, farmer and director of L and K Group and North West Auctions, Trevor Wilson, talks to Hannah Binns about his near-death incident falling nine feet from a barn roof one sunny afternoon in May.
On the day his life changed forever, Trevor Wilson felt in total control.
“It had been an incredibly busy lambing time, with the hoggs lambing strong lambs 24 hours a day,” says Trevor, 58, who farms a 980-strong flock of sheep with his parents Edward and Ethel at Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria.
“So, as things on the farm quietened down on Bank Holiday weekend [Friday, May 8], I thought it was the perfect opportunity to finally finish the barn roof, especially as it was a job I enjoy.”
But after a successful morning where it felt like nothing could go wrong and deciding to ‘nip back and finish it’ after dinner, Trevor fell 2.7 metres (9ft) from the roof in a near death incident later that afternoon.
“I remember finishing the roof at half-past three and standing on the wall plate to enjoy the view,” he says.
“The next thing I heard was my daughter-in-law Nicole, now nicknamed ‘The Angel’, asking if I was okay.
“I was incredibly lucky she found me when she did during a walk around the farm with my son, Thomas, about an hour later.
"I was still unconscious.
“Having also worked in construction for many years, I had adhered to the rules and regulations to make sure I was working in the safest way possible.
“It seems I was overcome by the heat, as it was such a hot day, and passed out, falling between the rafters.
"I may not have landed head first if I had hit one of the rafters and woken up.”
The fall resulted in Trevor’s second, third and fourth vertebrae becoming dislodged, with the discs pushing into his spinal column.
He was taken to Barrow Hospital via ambulance but discharged at 2am.
However, when Trevor’s leg started to go blue the next morning, it became apparent the extent of his injuries had gone unnoticed and he was rushed into Royal Preston Hospital for a major operation.
“It is fantastic what surgeons can do in a couple of hours,” Trevor says.
“They took my voice box out to get through to the spinal cord, replace the discs with new bits of metal and weld it all back together.
“Had my partner, Louise, have known, she may well have kept hold of it [his voice box].
"Given that 20 per cent of people with similar injures die and 75 per cent are left with permanent paralysis, as my surgeon said, I am one of the blessed.
“I always had some sensations and after a fortnight, I got a bit of movement.
"But the first month of being in hospital was sheer terror.
“Nothing worked from the neck down, I could not sleep for a month and I could not swallow a solid meal for five weeks.
“For a farmer who religiously enjoys his three-plus meals a day, it was unbearable.
“You do not realise how many seconds there are in a day.
"It felt like three years of my life.”
Reflecting on his time at an outreach centre in Southport where he underwent intense physiotherapy three times a day, Trevor says: “The centre is one of the best for care and, from start to finish, the nurses have been absolutely incredible.
“The pain is extreme, but you have to have the willpower to break through it and get going again.
"Five seconds can change your life.
“One hour of physiotherapy feels like having sheared 250 sheep.
“I have lost three stone, most of which was muscle built from various farm and construction work during the years, that has simply wasted away due to inactivity.
“It is a case of getting the range back but that means pain every single day.
"I am determined to be home before their six-month estimation.”
"One hour of physiotherapy feels like having sheared 250 sheep"
It will be at least two years before Trevor can do any manual sheep work on the farm and that is a frightening thought for him.
“The incident has been a lifechanging event and the whole family will have to sit down and have a serious discussion soon about what type of farm we run in the future,” he says.
“My manual farm labour ability will not be what it used to and it haunts me to think about sheep getting stuck in the quicksand on the salt marshes.
“My 83-year-old dad has had offers of help while I have been in hospital, but you cannot keep relying on people, and I know I will not have the physical strength to help rescue the sheep for some time. It is a scary prospect.
“Thinking ahead, either we will have a year or two out from lambing and run the hoggs and make the figures stack.
"Or we will hire more staff at peak periods and carry on running the farm between us.
“The family has been astonishing the past few months, picking up the pieces and running the show and it is incredibly reassuring to know the farm is being taken care of and I only have to focus on getting better “I am so lucky to have a team behind me.
“Not every farmer has that privilege and so I urge them to consider the consequences an incident could have, not only for them physically, but also on the operation of their businesses before they set off in a morning.”
With autumn breeding sheep sales approaching, Trevor believes the Covid-19 social distancing restrictions could help the family out this year since he will be physically unable to sell his shearlings in person at the auction marts.
Trevor usually sells as many shearlings as he can through NWA, but also sells at Carlisle and Skipton to ‘spread them out a bit’.
“This year, with the pandemic, the focus is likely to be more on the livestock, rather than the seller and so we are considering selling them all on the farm to make it easier for everyone in terms of logistics, time and labour,” he says.
When it comes to talking about the response he has had from family, friends and the farming community, Trevor gets slightly emotional.
“It has really humbled me,” he says. “As a director of an auction mart, you only ever hear from 3 per cent and deal with the problems,” he says.
“Well, I’ve now heard from the other 97 per cent and it was incredible listening to all the offers of help and support for myself and the family.
"It was overwhelming knowing so many people are thinking of you and wishing you well.
“The board of directors at Kendal have been fantastic, as were all the staff, and the chairman of NWA, John Drinkall, and Katie Black, company secretary of L and K Group, have made sure I have plenty to think about, which has kept me going.
“Initially, I did not want everyone to put me in a wheelchair so I downplayed the incident on Facebook,” he says.
“But now I want my experience to remind farmers that they are not invincible.
“In busy periods, it can feel the world revolves around you and the farm, but it does not and it certainly will not if you are not here any more.
“Use that quad-bike helmet. Tie pieces of bale twine on farm machinery to remind farmers to come home safe.
"Take more time to plan and think about the tasks in front of you.
“Communicate with people where you are going and what time you are expecting to be back.
"It could have been seven o’clock before anyone noticed I had not come back in for tea and checked up on me, which would have been far too late.
“Give yourself a bit of thought as an incident can change your life in a blink of an eye.
"Look at what happened to me.”
While Trevor’s life has changed forever, he is adamant others should learn from his experience.
And with determination, hope and the support of family, friends and the farming community, Trevor is giving everything he has got to making the fullest recovery possible.
Trevor Wilson spoke to Farmers Guardian ahead of Farm Safety Week, July 20-24. He was interviewed from hospital where he underwent treatment for nine weeks. Thankfully, he has now been discharged and will complete his recovery at home.