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Jake's Story

It was Father’s Day (19 June) 2016 and Jake Clifford was returning to his home in Swindon to spend time with his dad.

Jake and his fiancée Darryl

He left his brother’s home in Melksham and as he was driving his motorcycle on the A4361, just before the Salthrop junction, he was hit by a car.

The impact was substantial and caused him and his motorcycle to be thrown into a field 80 feet away.

A land ambulance crew arrived and began treating Jake, but due to the seriousness of his injuries Wiltshire Air Ambulance was dispatched.

Jake, who at the time was aged 24, had suffered a broken pelvis, broken wrist but the major concern was his right leg which was folded up underneath him. Both the tibia and fibula bones (between the knee and ankle) were broken as was every bone in his foot.

Wiltshire Air Ambulance’s paramedics are specialists in critical care and they are able to give advanced drugs for pain relief. They also use specialist medical equipment, funded by public donations. 

Wiltshire Air Ambulance critical care paramedic Jo Gilbert was one of the team who treated Jake.

She said: “Jake had been thrown a considerable distance from the road into a cornfield and had serious injuries. We were concerned about his spine and pelvis but the most severe injury was to his lower right leg.

“We gave him a strong drug (Ketamine) to sedate him and for pain relief before straightening his leg and airlifting him to hospital.”

Wiltshire Air Ambulance flew Jake to Southmead Hospital, Bristol, in ten minutes. On arrival he was taken straight for a CT scan and into the operating theatre where he underwent an eight hour operation to save his leg.

Jake was in the intensive care unit for four days and had another three operations. Each time he was warned that due to the damage his leg had sustained it may not be able to be saved.

The situation became critical when Jake suffered a major infection in the tibia bone and he was told the bone would have to be removed, meaning his leg would be amputated.

However, at the eleventh hour a specialist doctor proposed a radical operation to remove most of the tibia bone and fix a metal frame on to Jake’s leg to encourage regrowth of the tibia.

This operation was successful and Jake returned home ten weeks later, in August 2016, with the frame on his leg.

A long road to recovery

 Jake was unable to return to his physical production operative job so he enrolled at Swindon College to study accountancy.

While the frame was on his leg Jake used crutches to walk and in the later stages of his rehabilitation he used walking sticks.

The metal frame had tensioned wires which were attached to the unbroken parts of the tibia bone (at the top and the bottom of his leg). Jake adjusted the bolts holding the wires and it was hoped this would enable the bone to regrow.

“It was quite brutal and often it was agony, but the frame was an incredible piece of engineering,” he said.

However, during this period there were several setbacks as Jake developed infections in his leg and he underwent numerous operations where the leg was cleaned out.

But after 18 months the frame had worked, resulting in eight and a half inches of regrowth in Jake’s tibia bone – it is thought this could be the longest regrowth for a tibia bone in Europe.

What was it like when the frame came off?

“It was the start of the rest of my life and to have freedom again, not relying on other people to do things for me,” said Jake.

A month later, in April 2018, he began a new job at Nationwide Building Society in Swindon and in 2019 he and his fiancée, Darryl, moved into their own home in Swindon.

Jake with WAA crew (left to right) paramedic Jo Gilbert, pilot Nicky Smith and paramedic Keith Mills.

Supporting Wiltshire Air Ambulance

Jake and his mother met some of the Wiltshire Air Ambulance aircrew who treated him. This was just over a year after the accident while he had the frame on his leg.

He recalled: “It was brilliant to meet them. They see people at their absolute worst and it’s a testament to their character and training how they dealt with my injuries. I was in a bad way and was well looked after by everyone.”

Following the accident Jake, who is Swindon born and bred and went to Kingsdown School, resolved to support Wiltshire Air Ambulance and joined the charity’s lottery scheme. The lottery is an important income stream for the charity to enable it to raise the funds needed to operate its lifesaving service.

He and Darryl also volunteered for a day at the charity’s shop in Devizes in September 2018.

He said: “I just wanted to give something back to a charity that had given me so much. Before my accident I never really thought about Wiltshire Air Ambulance. I was aware of it but didn’t realise how much we all need it until what happened to me.

“We both really enjoyed volunteering at the shop, talking with the staff and volunteers. Everyone was so friendly.”

Jake has ongoing issues with his joints that were injured and undergoes physiotherapy but is full of admiration for Wiltshire Air Ambulance.

He said: “Wiltshire Air Ambulance saved my leg. I would not have my leg if the crew hadn’t got to me quickly, treated me at the scene and then flew me to Southmead Hospital for further specialist treatment.

“My leg will never be the same as it was before the accident but I’m just so grateful that it was saved. It means I can live my life as normally as possible.”

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