On Boxing Day 2022, grandmother of six Helen returned home from her manager’s shift at the local shop – both her Christmas and life were about to be flipped upside down. A near-fatal stabbing from her husband at the time left her “screaming and covered in blood” and requiring emergency treatment from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance.
Helen Mclaren, 61, and her husband Ray, 63, were at their home in Gosport when a “discussion about a Christmas card” led to Ray brandishing a kitchen knife from the dishwasher.
Unaware of his intentions to attack her, Helen thought Ray was going to harm himself.
“I told him he wouldn’t see the children and grandchildren again. ‘It’s not me that’s not going to see them again’ he said. ‘It’s you’.”
In a panic, Helen rushed for the door.
“He stabbed me in the arm,” said Helen. “I was in shock.”
Unbeknownst to Helen, she had also been stabbed in the chest, puncturing her heart. She managed to escape the house and started banging on her neighbour’s door.
They immediately dialled 999, with ambulance and police crews rushing to the scene, closely followed by a doctor and specialist paramedic from Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance who landed in a nearby school field.
Thanks to a wet red patch seeping through her shirt, the neighbours and ambulance crews realised that Helen also had a stab wound to her chest.
“I remember hearing them discuss breaking my breastbone and putting me to sleep – but in my mind I’d only been stabbed in the arm,” said Helen.
Indya, Helen’s daughter, received a call from her mum’s neighbour at 8:30pm, telling her that Helen had knocked on their door, screaming and covered in blood.
Indya said: “We started driving and there were blue lights in front of us. We didn’t know they were going to Mum, but we also did at the same time. It was horrible.
“All the neighbours were out on the street with police and ambulance crews everywhere. It made us panic; I thought it must be bad if they’ve called the Air Ambulance. But we were also reassured because they were going to do everything they could.”
A doctor’s perspective
Dr Jamie Plumb
“On tasking to any job like this we try to keep a really open mind as to what might have happened and what injuries may have been sustained. Initially, we had been told that the patient had been stabbed in the arm. However, an update stated that there was also a stab wound to the chest. Immediately this changes the potential seriousness of the injury.
“On our arrival we found Helen in the back of the land ambulance sat up talking. We had a swift and accurate hand over from our South Central Ambulance Service colleagues stating that there were indeed two stab wounds.
“We set about gaining large bore intravenous access and I also placed an arterial line to closely monitor her blood pressure. Specialist Paramedic Casey and I were concerned about the possibility of a serious injury to the chest and decided to move quickly to hospital where our cardiothoracic colleagues would be on hand to treat any such injury.
“Soon after our journey had started Helen rapidly deteriorated and became critically unwell with an unrecordable blood pressure – she was what we call ‘peri-arrest’ (about the go into a cardiac arrest). We treated her with blood and clotting factors.
“On arrival to the Emergency Department I was able to scan her heart and saw a pericardial effusion, which confirmed our suspicion that the stab wound had penetrated the heart – a time critical, life-threatening situation. Plans were made for her to urgently go to the operating theatre.”
Helen woke up the next day in the Intensive Care Unit of University Hospital Southampton. Her daughters told her that she’d been stabbed in the heart and that the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance gave her an emergency blood transfusion and travelled with her to hospital by road.
Helen was discharged home to her daughters two weeks later.
“My girls were told they didn’t know whether they could save me or not. I was distraught by that,” she said. “What must they have been going through? Even now we still can’t believe it happened.”
“Without the care from the Air Ambulance crew, she wouldn’t be here now.”
In June, Helen raised almost £2,000 at a Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams tribute night to thank us for attending her friend’s husband, when he sadly died in a motorbike accident last year, not knowing she would be using the service herself.
Help us be there for patients like Helen this Christmas.