Tuesday, 5 March 2024
Tuesday, 5 March 2024

Essex & Herts Air Ambulance mark 25 years of providing a life-saving service

A summer of celebrations marking 25 years of Essex & Herts Air Ambulance (EHAAT) has culminated with the team reflecting on the life-saving service provided by the charity, and the ex-patients and their families who have directly benefited from the work they do.

Over the last 25 years, the Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) teams at EHAAT have been called out to over 22,700 flying missions. Missions include countless patients involved in road traffic accidents or other traumatic incidents such as significant falls, assaults, or industrial accidents. The team has also responded to many medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest, life-threatening sepsis, or devastating strokes. All patients attended by HEMS teams receive advanced critical care usually only available in the hospital setting.

As the patients have gone on to recover, their relationships with EHAAT have continued, with many ex-patients, their friends and family going on to support the charity, either through fundraising, volunteering or simply sharing their stories.

Like Alistair Hopper who lives in Stevenage. In April this year, he left home to take his daughter, Imogen, to school when he collapsed outside the school gate.

He had had a cardiac arrest and luckily one of the other Dads stepped in to administer chest compressions before the East of England Ambulance Service was quickly on the scene. They utilised the LUCAS machine, an automated device designed to assist rescuers by delivering effective, consistent and continuous chest compressions before the EHAAT helicopter arrived. The HEMS team worked to support the ambulance service in stabilising Alistair with roadside critical care and then expedited his safe transfer to the Lister Hospital in Stevenage where he ultimately made a remarkable recovery.

Alistair, together with his wife Gemma and daughters Isla and Imogen, recently visited EHAAT’s airbase at North Weald. Gemma shared her heartfelt gratitude saying:

“I just wanted to reach out and say thank you again for such a lovely morning. It was amazing to meet the special people who saved Alistair’s life. It was wonderful for him to put faces to the story, and it was such an unforgettable experience for the children. You are all wonderful people. Thank you again.”

Essex & Herts Air Ambulance mark 25 years of providing a life-saving service
Alistair Hopper with wife Gemma and daughters, Isla and Imogen. Bill Shiells (3rd from right sitting in the helicopter) with his family and son-in-law, Laurie Phillipson, Centre for Excellence Clinical Academic Fellow at EHAAT. Photograph credit: EHAAT.

Another patient who is grateful to EHAAT is Bill Shiells. He already has a family connection to the charity as his son-in-law, Laurie Phillipson, is a Centre for Excellence Clinical Academic Fellow at EHAAT. However, on an ordinary morning in February this year, he was at his local swimming pool in Essex when he collapsed in the shower.

In that critical moment, Lewis, a lifeguard, spotted Bill and sprang into action, calling for an ambulance and initiating high-quality CPR. Working closely with his mother Joanne and his colleague Jaime, the trio retrieved the defibrillator (AED), applied the pads to Bill’s chest, and delivered a shock to his heart. They were still administering CPR when the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) team arrived. Then EHAAT arrived and the Critical Care Team assisted in providing advanced care at the scene that helped to stabilise him, before airlifting Bill to the Essex Cardiothoracic Centre at Basildon Hospital within 14 minutes.

EHAAT’s pre-hospital care doctor who attended to Bill, Dr Frances Arnold, praised Lewis, Joanne, and Jaime, for their quick thinking and composed actions by saying:

“They did such a good job and made sure everything was running smoothly before the crews arrived. This story and Bill’s successful recovery is also a testament to the EEAST crew, who were able to give us clear information in a concise manner, effectively strengthening the chain of survival. To be able to do that is a real team effort.”

However, perhaps the most poignant patient story is that of Ken Bailey, who is thought to be one of EHAAT’s earliest patients.

In March 1999, Ken’s life took an unexpected turn when he was trimming a tall hedge close to his home in Blackmore, Essex. His heart started racing and he had intense chest pain, but he managed to climb down the ladder before he collapsed. Luckily, his wife Pam saw him on the floor and called an ambulance. But because of the challenging terrain, the ambulance crew couldn’t carry Ken across the field on a stretcher, so the air ambulance was called out, and the HEMS crew airlifted Ken to the old King Edward School Playing Field, where he was transferred to a land ambulance and taken to Broomfield Hospital.

Looking back, Ken, who is 89 years old this month, is realistic about what could have happened 24 years ago. He said:

“It’s the fact that I got to Broomfield so quickly by helicopter and land ambulance that I’m here today. I had a cardiac arrest in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I simply couldn’t have gone on for any more time!”

Ken’s resilience and determination shone through. He spent 21 days in hospital and once home, the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, but Ken’s strength grew, and he found himself alive and thriving against all the odds. Now whenever Ken visits his cardiologist, the doctors and nurses marvel at his survival and longevity.

Dr Tony Joy, Interim Medical Director at Essex & Herts Air Ambulance, said:

“As we celebrate 25 years of Essex & Herts Air Ambulance, we cherish stories like Alistair, Bill, and Ken’s, which remind us of the vital role of our supporters in helping their local life-saving charity be there for those, in our communities, who need us on what is probably the worst day of their lives.  These stories also highlight, not only the vital role that bystanders play in critical moments like these, demonstrating the life-changing difference people can make, but also how we work alongside our partners at EEAST and all the local hospitals, to achieve the best outcomes for our patients.

“However, it goes without saying that our patients and their families are the ones who truly inspire all of us at the charity the most, to continue to deliver our life-saving service today and into the future.”

To find out more or to donate, please visit: www.ehaat.org.

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