Sue's story from Codford

Sue Williams, of Codford, was airlifted by Wiltshire Air Ambulance after she suffered serious injuries in a road traffic collision on the A303 at Chicklade. Sue takes up the story.  

“Prior to the accident I was an active 43-year-old. I worked full-time and spent my time off tending our various pets, walking our dogs in the countryside and riding a friend's horse.  

On the 5 April 2012 at approximately 7.25pm, I was a passenger in a single car road traffic accident. The car I was in came off the road and rolled several times before landing on its wheels, by which time the roof on the passenger side had been somewhat crushed. Witnesses called the emergency services and Wiltshire Air Ambulance attended.  

On assessment, I had a GCS of 10, obvious lacerations to my face and head. I had fractured my left arm and there was no radial pulse. I had a fracture in my neck and spinal fractures in the thoracic region. My left arm was splinted and I was placed in a scoop. I also had a rib fracture. I was airlifted to Frenchay Hospital in Bristol.

My partner, Dave, was at home and found himself answering the front door to the police, who drove him to Frenchay with lights and sirens blazing. I wasn't expected to live. The Frenchay trauma team went into action that night and over the next few days. 

The plastic surgeon dealt with my degloved scalp (I have a skin graft from my thigh on my left temple) and facial lacerations (one of which was from ear to ear across my eyelids).

The orthopaedic surgeon plated my left arm and plated my left radius/ulna at the wrist.   Thankfully the thoracic spinal fractures (T2, T4 and T5) were stable, but the C6 and C7 fracture in my neck was unstable and needed fixating; enter the neuro surgeon.  By this time I had a 50% left pneumothorax and pneumonia.   Thankfully I had no bleeding on the brain, just diffuse cerebral swelling but was intubated due to reduced consciousness.

I was in the intensive treatment unit for nine days and then discharged to a high dependency ward. I was expected to stay on a rehabilitation ward for 6 months to a year and the plan was to transfer me to Salisbury Hospital, so I was closer to home.   Not knowing where I was or why, I wanted to go home to be with my dog. I managed to put on a good performance of being ok and was discharged home on the 2 May 2012.

I had regular outpatient plastic and orthopaedic follow up appointments. I had a year of physiotherapy for my neck and left arm.  Eventually I was referred back to the original neuro consultant and found out that the difficulties I was struggling with were not just down to the extensive nerve damage throughout my head and body caused by the spinal and arm fractures. I'd sustained a moderate/severe traumatic brain injury with damage to the frontal lobe, left temporal lobe and diffuse axonal brain injury.

Working in conjunction with my neuro occupational therapist, neuro physiotherapist and neuro rehabilitation assistant we had a diagnosis to work with and my difficulties began to make sense - poor concentration, easily fatigued, easily distracted, word finding difficulties, elements of dyslexia and dyspraxia, autistic tendencies, obsessive thoughts and compulsive checking, insomnia, emotional lability, crying easily, claustrophobia and anxiety (especially around travel). 

All these symptoms still exist, but my neuro team helped me to understand, adapt (using external memory aids -whiteboard, daily planner, timer, alarms, etc.) and reach a level of acceptance (never resignation) about my physical and mental disabilities.

I am unlikely to be able to return to full-time employment but through Facebook I have become a published writer, contributing in Grief Diaries: Living with Brain Injury (hoping to raise awareness about this invisible disability). I'm still hoping that one day I will be able to find part-time employment.

If it wasn't for Wiltshire Air Ambulance I wouldn't be here today. Their experience, knowledge and quick thinking as to which trauma centre was most appropriate (given my multiple traumas) ensured that I lived to see another day.

My partner and I visited the headquarters on 1 June 2015 and I was overwhelmed to not only be able to shake the hand of the man who saved my life that night, but thanks to the compensation settlement I was able to make a donation. I cannot describe my emotions and didn't really take much in that morning, so we will be arranging to go back.

We have since become friends of Wiltshire Air Ambulance and they are a named beneficiary in both our wills.

Before the accident, I never gave the Air Ambulance much thought. Now, I cannot find words to describe how important it is to keep this service flying. They are there for everyone and you never know if one day it might be you who needs them. They saved my life and gave me a second chance.”