UPLIFTING STORIESNot your normal patient story

My wife recently required the services of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance. Her incident was horrific. She has no recollection of the events leading up to or during it and so I am going  to explain;

My name is Norman and I’ve been married to Geraldine (Gerry) for 41 years. Some 30 years ago Gerry was diagnosed as suffering from HOCM (Hypertrophic Obstructive Cardio Myopathy). This is an inherited disease which, up until then, had remained undetected. It basically means the heart walls thicken and that everyday activities become laboured and difficult.

In June 2016, we travelled to Barts Hospital in London for a regular heart check up. Gerry was told it was highly likely that she would suffer heart failure within 5-10 years, or maybe earlier. We never considered ‘earlier’ as an option – how wrong we were!

On 12th October, Gerry left home for a short local shopping trip in Amesbury, Wiltshire. All seemed normal as she left the house. Some 30 minutes later I received a telephone call to tell me that she was at a local business premises complaining of shortness of breath. Within 3 minutes I received another call telling me that I should attend ASAP as the situation was not looking good and that an ambulance had been called.

I arrived soon after to find my wife lying on the ground with a Community First Responder conducting CPR and a paramedic attaching a defibrillator to her chest.  It certainly looked like it was already too late! I wasn’t permitted to assist, for obvious reasons. The defibrillator wouldn’t allow a charged shock to be administered as it had detected an output in Gerry’s heart. The CPR continued unabated. Gerry had also suffered a pulmonary oedema and was bleeding into her lung. Fortunately, the paramedic was able to insert a tube into her in an effort to clear the blood from her airway.

A double crewed Ambulance arrived and CPR was handed over to a paramedic before the First Responder again took over. A clinical supervisor, together with The Wiltshire Air Ambulance road crew arrived. The only thing missing at this stage was an Air Ambulance. Air support had already been requested, and as The Wiltshire Air Ambulance was already attending another mission, a request was sent for nearby Air Ambulance to attend.
Fortunately, the town of Amesbury, on the western side of Wiltshire, is only 8 miles from Thruxton Airfield; the base for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance.  I had only ever considered them, in passing, and donated the odd coin on trips into Andover Town Centre.  I was used to seeing the ‘old’ Bo-105, EC-135 and the newer H-135, all bright yellow helicopters in the local skies, but never in my wildest imagination did I think that I, or one of mine, would ever require their services.

The Air Ambulance arrived very soon after it was requested and landed nearby. I stayed in the background, allowing the transfer to take place. I had previously been asked to write down all of Gerry’s details, as well as medication and medical condition, so hadn’t been a ‘mere spectator’.  Having been informed of Gerry’s condition, Dr Sutton, from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance, informed me that he was familiar with HOCM (very few are) and that they would fly directly to Southampton Hospital,  a Regional Cardiac Centre,  as opposed to Salisbury District Hospital. His single comment gave me an untold amount of confidence. He told me that the flying time was between 10-12 minutes and that, unfortunately, there was no room for me! To see the helicopter take off and fly off towards Southampton was, however, a great boost.

As an aside, I have escorted Ambulances in a previous occupation, some at breakneck speed! The journey from Amesbury to Southampton via the City of Salisbury and the A36/M27 could never have completed in 10-12 minutes. Was that a major contribution in my wife’s ultimate care and survival?  I’m 100% certain it was!

I arrived at Southampton Hospital to find that Gerry had already been taken to the Intensive Care Unit. She remained there on life support for 5 days, until signs of her recovering were evident.  She became less dependent on the machine and started to breath for herself. Eventually she had an ICD (implanted cardioverter-defibrillator) fitted inside her chest and wired into her heart. This should help prevent further episodes in the future.
Gerry and I well aware of the importance of Air Ambulances and I had been used to being able to call on one in my career. Do we take it for granted? I think we’re all guilty of this and accept it as part of normal life. We both feel that Gerry’s chances of survival were only due to the availability of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance. The care and professionalism shown by everyone involved was superb, but without the rapid intervention of the Air Ambulance and crew, I’m confident that I would not be writing this article.

What for the future? For Gerry’s part, she is still suffering from HOCM but has received a ‘second chance’. As for the Air Ambulance, it is still flying and anyone reading this article could need its services at any time, although I sincerely hope not!  Up until now I wasn’t aware that, other than in Scotland, all Air Ambulances in the UK are charities and publicly funded!  This is an unashamed ‘plug’ for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance, and I would urge any of you to help them in any way you can.

A very grateful Norman.

P.S  Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance have also got 2 new supporters!

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