Eight-year-old Amber is a bright and curious girl. An avid reader, she splits her time between David Walliams books, which she has been known to finish within a couple of days, and doting on her three cherished guinea pigs: Chocolate Brownie, Gingerbread and Fudge.
Amber, her sister Grace and mother Nicola returned home one evening from the girls’ tap-dancing class as bedtime beckoned. Little did the family know, that the following morning they would require the specialist skills of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance (HIOWAA) Critical Care Team. Below, Nicola tells her story.
“On the morning of the 29th November, Amber complained of a headache at breakfast. I thought she was trying to get the day off school and didn’t believe her, but she insisted that she had a really bad headache, so I gave her some Calpol.
“After a few minutes, Amber said her head was hurting more so I told her to lie down for a little while, whilst her little sister and I carried on getting ready for school. When I checked on Amber 10 minutes later, she was floppy and unresponsive. She started being sick and then fell unconscious, so I shouted for Grace to get my phone and called for an ambulance.”
As they were waiting for the ambulance to arrive, Nicola says, “It was just the three of us at the time and Grace was understandably upset. I kept giving her little jobs to do to distract her. I kept calm, as being anything other than calm wouldn’t have been helpful to anyone.”
When the land ambulance arrived, and preliminary checks were being carried out, the 999-call handler informed Nicola that the Air Ambulance had been dispatched.
“As the Air Ambulance came in to land, I realised Amber was seriously ill. Up until then I thought, ‘she’s okay, she will wake up in a minute.’ Doctor Lou and Specialist Critical Care Paramedic Jason got off the Air Ambulance to assess Amber. They were so calm whilst they discussed what to do with her.”
The crew stabilised Amber, and decided the safest option was to take her to University Hospital Southampton by land:
“Dr Lou and Jason travelled with us to the hospital. Along with a road ambulance paramedic, they both stayed with Amber in the back of the ambulance throughout the journey. I could hear them chatting to Amber as she was drifting in and out of consciousness. Amber tells me she can remember people in red suits looking after her, but not much else. I have shown her pictures of Dr Lou and Jason as she wanted to know who they were.
“When we arrived, Jason warned me that there would be a lot of staff waiting for us. I was ushered into a waiting room and within minutes, another doctor came to see us. Amber was diagnosed with an intracerebral haematoma, caused by an arteriovenous malformation, meaning she had a blood vessel within her brain that was leaking blood into her brain tissue. She was operated on to remove the malformation as well as some damaged blood vessels and tissue. When I first saw Amber after surgery, she was sitting up in bed in the intensive care ward. She saw me and said, ‘Mummy, I don’t have a headache anymore!’”
Amber spent the next eight days in hospital followed by a month at home for rest. While she was able to return to school part-time after just six weeks, the whole family have had to take time to adjust.
“The bleed in Amber’s brain caused her to develop a left side hemianopia, which means she has no field of vision on that side. We now have to ensure there are no hazards she could trip over at home, so her sister and I have to be extra tidy and try to anticipate dangers whilst we are out that she may not otherwise see.
“Amber gets tired very quickly now and can struggle walking for long periods of time. We have a pushchair for those days when she is too tired, which was very strange for her to begin with. She received an academic award at the end of the school year and was chosen by her class teacher to receive this award for her hard work and perseverance in her learning. The Headteacher took Amber and other recipients of the award to Paultons Park as a treat.
“We are all incredibly grateful for the medical help provided by HIOWAA and the NHS. Without their specialist care Amber may not have survived, and we feel very lucky to live in an age where we have the medical advances that we do. Dr Lou and Jason were so professional and swift, and they made Amber comfortable and stable before travelling to hospital. I couldn’t have asked for more from them for her emergency care. These guys are true heroes in our eyes!”