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Anyone familiar with the medical documentaries so widespread on TV today will have heard of the “Golden Hour”, that brief window of time that can often make the difference between life and death, and it is in that narrow slice of time that the Wiltshire Air Ambulance operates.
Following an accident on April 19th this year, my son was left with severe head trauma which would have most likely have been fatal if only land based services were responding. Not to take away from the skills and dedication of our ground paramedics, but the rapid response and transit times afforded by the Air Support Unit means that vital minutes are not lost navigating traffic.
In the time it would have taken by road, my son was assessed, treated on-scene, airlifted to Frenchay Hospital for emergency surgery and returned to the ICU. The vital seconds of the “Golden Hour”, seconds given to him by the Aircrew, had made all the difference as it so often does.
Once stable he was moved to the Children's Hospital in Bristol City Centre where he was roused from his coma on May 2nd. Initially it seemed that he would regain use of neither his left eye or right arm nor possibly full use of his right leg. As a father I can tell you that whilst devastating, this news was softened by the facts that he was a) alive and b) able to communicate in a limited fashion which gave hope for only minimal brain damage in the longer term.
The following week he was transferred back to Frenchay Hospital where the level of specialist care is, to put it bluntly, second to none. The combination of their knowledge and his own stubborn refusal to quit saw him back on his feet and able to move un-aided (albeit slowly) by mid-May and communicating in an almost “normal” manner (though there was some residual aphasia at the time). In only twenty-five days he had gone from peering through the letterbox of Death's Door from the inside to knocking on its outside and hobbling off with his uniquely cantankerous chuckle.
Once he reached this stage, which considering the timeline was astounding enough, he continued to improve at a steady pace and was released from hospital sixty-six days after the accident that so nearly killed him.
In the time since, he has regained complete use of his right leg and arm, whilst the grip in his hand is still slightly weak. His left eye is still slightly mis-aligned, for which corrective surgery is planned, but is functional (in his own words “ I've got great peripheral vision on the left !”). His mobility is back to near “normal” levels,on familiar ground.
His personality, so often the “unseen injury” in cases like this, seems to have suffered no lasting effects. That is, to me at least, as surprising as his rapid physical recovery but I'm not one to “look a gift horse in the mouth”, as they say. He is, understandably for his age, frustrated at the delay for his to return to school and other “normal” activities for the time being but is mature enough to accept that this stage of the healing process is generally the longest.
As a father, I have had to face the one thing that any parent truly dreads – the fear that I'll outlive my son.
Over the course of his treatment, especially when he was in a coma, I faced a seemingly endless cycle of thought centred on things I might never have the chance to see in my child's future : Graduation from school; first days of work; wedding; the possibility of him becoming a parent himself – the list is, when you think about it, endless.
So why am I writing this ?
Simple – The Golden Hour. What a dedicated team accomplished in that space of time deserves far more than I can do in sixty short minutes, but like all heroes I believe they should be given due acknowledgement and if that means spending some time at my keyboard, then I see it as time well spent.
Yes, the staff at the two hospitals have done sterling work, as ever, but it is the actions of the group of people who work in that critical period of time that make the biggest difference to the outcome.
The actions of the Wiltshire Air Ambulance aircrew and, though they are often not mentioned, the support staff that keep them flying, operate their communications and fulfil the hundreds of “small” tasks needed to keep the service operational.
I am lucky enough to know the names of the crew that saved my son : Pilot Bob Lindup, Paramedic Jo Munday and Police Air Observer Adrian Wells and Doctor Leon Roberts from HeliMed 65 accompanied by Paramedic Nigel Stanmore. If I'm ever in your area, I'll stop by to take a turn manning the tea-pot.
Gentlemen, and honoured Lady, you have a father's eternal thanks.
There is something in the skies of Wiltshire. It's halo is a blurry flattened disc, not a golden hoop. It passes with a whirr of blades and the sigh of a turbine, not the whisper of a feathered wing. It is a chariot, but it carries saviours not warriors. If anyone deserves the title of “Mortal Guardians”, it is them and their comrades. If you see them passing, spare them a wave and let them know you appreciate their presence.