Living in such remote areas, the chance of getting to hospital quickly if anything should happen to you are slim. Sarah Beard talks to two farmers who both champion the vital role of the Air Ambulance.
Six days before Christmas last year, John Wofford, Hanbury, Worcestershire, was out hunting when his horse hesitated before jumping a hedge.
The pause left them unable to clear it, and he was thrown from his saddle before the horse landed on top of him.
He was with the Worcestershire Hunt, about half a mile from the nearest road and the ‘wrong side of a steep-sided stream.’ His fellow riders instantly knew it was serious and that a land ambulance would struggle to reach them. They asked the 999 operators if the air ambulance could attend and it arrived within a swift 15 minutes, providing John with a doctor, a critical care paramedic and stronger painkillers than what could have been administered by a standard ambulance.
“Hearing that the air ambulance was on its way provided instant reassurance to me and to those thrust into the role of ‘instant lifesaver’ in the field,” John says.
He was flown to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital specialist trauma centre in Birmingham, a journey which would have taken up to 40 minutes by road. John was found to have broken his sternum and ribs and suffered kidney damage, as well as a blast fracture to his back.
In a horrible twist of fate, three weeks later, Chris Heath, who lives on the neighbouring farm to John, was crushed by his Claas 436 Celtis tractor.
Chris says: “I was emptying dirty water out the lagoon. I had not put the handbrake on as I was in a rush to get out the cab and I went out frontways, which was wrong to begin with. I must have hit the gear shift selector which put the tractor, complete with a front loader and shear grab, into reverse which then proceeded to run over me.”
Due to the location and severity of his injuries, the air ambulance also came to his rescue.
“I was in the middle of a field in January and it parked right by me, so I didn’t have to be carried a long way or transported off the field,” Chris says.
Chris was flown to University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire due to the specific nature of his suspected injuries. Both Chris and his surgeons say they believe travelling with the air ambulance meant he arrived at the hospital an hour earlier than he would have done by road, and it may have been the difference between him walking again. He was found to have crushed his bowel, had several displaced vertebrae which required immediate stabilisation, and broken his pelvis in four places.
He had left behind a cattle farm with about 60 cows, for which he was solely responsible for.
It meant his family had to keep the farm running and while Chris’s wife, Carol, was by his bedside, his son Richard found himself in charge of the cattle.
“Richard was chucked in the deep end,” says Chris. “He’d only ever done a week’s farming and he didn’t know how to drive a tractor or milk the cows properly. His life was hell for a bit.”
Word of what happened to Chris quickly across the local community and people rallied around to help Richard keep the farm going, supported by The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, without which, says Chris, the farm would be ‘thousands of pounds down and the stress to the family would have been even greater’.
“I can’t say enough how brilliant they’ve been,” he says.
After seeing the vital role the air ambulance played in saving two farmers in the same community, those from Hanbury, The Worcestershire Hunt and beyond, recently raised £20,000 for the air ambulance charity.
With charity buckets at regular hunt events and a ‘Coyote Ugly’ themed party organised by hunt member Chloe Stiley, they collectively raised an outstanding amount of money.
According to the air ambulance, the money can go towards eight life-saving missions, given that each mission the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity undertakes costs £2,500, receiving no Government or National Lottery funding.
Helen Stevens, from the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity, says: “Due to the obvious rural locations of most of these incidents, the speed of an air ambulance can mean the difference between life and death.
“A patient who receives expert clinical care, as delivered by the aircrew, within the all-important first hour after injury, known as the ‘Golden Hour’, has a far greater chance of survival, which is why it is so crucial in an emergency.”
The £20,000 cheque was presented to the charity at The Hanbury Countryside Show in July, which is held on land belonging to Chris and John.
The events which led to Chris and John being saved by the air ambulance were clearly devastating for them and their families, but both incidents highlight how strong the rural community is and what a vital asset the air ambulance is.
John says: “The air ambulance is vital for those of us who live, work and play in the countryside. With so much emphasis on road ambulances tasked to respond quickly to casualties in towns and cities, casualties in the countryside are at a massive disadvantage when it comes to a timely response. “They’re often in remote locations, difficult to access by road. For those poeple, the air ambulance really can be the difference between life and death.
“It has landed here three or four times over the years and each time a road ambulance would not have been able to reach the incidents. I can’t imagine the air ambulance not being there.
“It makes the countryside a safer place to be.”