Deputy News Editor ANDREW HIRST spent a day with the Yorkshire Air Ambulance team and here he illustrates what faces the pilots and paramedics on a day-to-day basis
THE six-year-old boy’s survival chances seemed hopeless.
The youngster had been hit by an army truck which had then run over him.
The paramedics on the Yorkshire Air Ambulance at first thought they had no chance of saving him.
Paramedic Darren Axe said: “There was not a part of his body that had not suffered a traumatic injury, including a fractured spine, skull and terrible internal injuries.
“Normally we stabilise patients at the scene before flying them to the nearest specialist hospital – but such were his injuries it was a simple case of scoop and run.”
The youngster was flown from the accident scene at Dishworth to Harrogate District Hospital in minutes – and Darren thought he would never see him again.
He was in a coma for a month.
Six months later the door at the Yorkshire Air Ambulance headquarters at Leeds Bradford Airport was flung open and the boy came in with his parents.
“It was one of the best moments of my life,’’ said Darren. “I never thought he had any chance of making it. I was just so pleased to see him again and it shows the wonders this helicopter can do.
“In this case it wasn’t just what we do as paramedics – it was the speed of the helicopter that got him to hospital so quickly.’’
Darren was part of the crew which also saved the life of Top Gear TV presenter Richard Hammond after a dragster-style car crash in September 2006.
The car, capable of reaching speeds of about 300mph, crashed at Elvington airfield near York, leaving Richard critically ill with head injuries.
“Richard was out of the car when we got there,” said Darren. “Outwardly he looked all right. He had bumps to his face and jaw which were starting to come up in bruises and he was drifting in and out of consciousness."
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“People who have suffered serious head injuries ask us the same questions again and again – and Richard kept wanting to get off the helicopter as we flew him to Leeds General Infirmary.”
Without the air ambulance he would have been taken to York District Hospital, stabilised and then transferred to LGI by road which would have taken around 50 minutes.
Instead, it took just 12 minutes to fly him from the airfield direct to LGI where a specialist neurological team was waiting.
After saving him, Richard repaid the favour by massively promoting the work of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance in particular and all the air ambulance helicopters around the country.
The two Yorkshire Air Ambulances go to dozens of road accidents each year – and a high proportion of them are motorcyclists aged between 19 and 31.
In crashes people suffer three impacts – the first is the vehicle hitting something and coming to a halt, sometimes from 60mph to 0mph in under a second.
The next impact is the person hitting something in the car – even if it’s just the airbag going off.
And the third are the internal organs hitting the insides of the body.
All are potential killers.
Sadly some of the calls do end in tragedy no matter what advanced life-saving skills the aircrew paramedics use.
And that can be hard for Darren – very hard.
“The bereaved relatives ask all kinds of things – if their loved one suffered and the last words they spoke,’’ said Darren. “I may be an ugly ex miner, but I’m not made of steel.
“I treated one young man who had an accident on his bike and I thought he was going to make it, I really did. His last words to me were he was feeling better and then he went to sleep. He never woke up. I was torn apart when his mum and dad came to see me.”
One of the first major air ambulance jobs Darren did was at the scene of a double fatal crash in Huddersfield.
Slaithwaite men Grenville Ranshaw, 56, and 22-year-old Christopher Buckley died at the scene after a Rover car driven by Mr Ranshaw was in a head-on crash with a Ford Fiesta on Manchester Road in Slaithwaite one Saturday lunchtime in August 2005.
The woman driving the Fiesta was cut free from the wreckage after Darren and other paramedics had stabilised her condition. She was flown to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary by the Yorkshire Air Ambulance.
Aircrew paramedics – or to give them their full title Helicopter Emergency Medical Service Aircrew Paramedics – are only too well aware of the golden hour. If they get the critically injured patient to hospital in that time, then their chances of survival improve dramatically.
But the crews talk of a Platinum 10 minutes – the helicopter is that fast.
A young girl was badly hurt after falling from her horse. The air ambulance took two minutes to get her to hospital from the scene. It took her desperately worried father 45 minutes by car.
And they get the right patient to the right hospital. Leeds general Infirmary has specialist neurological and heart units while Pinderfields near Wakefield is world-renowned for its specialist care for burns victim.
A few weeks ago Darren flew to help a man critically hurt in an explosion at work.
He was flown direct to Pinderfields and a specialist burns unit team – including a plastic surgeon – was waiting to meet the helicopter the moment it landed.
Leeds General Infirmary medics have the very latest techniques to save heart attack patients – so anyone with that condition is flown straight there and the helicopter lands on the hospital roof. The patient can be in the care of a full resuscitation team within moments of landing.
Patients who have heart attacks are given clot-busting drugs by ambulance paramedics.
But if taken to LGI they go straight to angioplasty surgery where a fine wire is put into the blocked blood vessel and a spring activated which allows it to expand and the clot is washed away.
The long-term recovery is far better with this `gold standard’ treatment.
Other calls are to people who have fallen on remote moorland, industrial accidents, people who have fallen from heights and farmers who have had accidents with agricultural machinery.
They went to one recently who had been gored by a bull called Barry.
After leaving hospital the farmer went back, got out his shotgun and Barry was turned into steak.
Aircrew paramedics go on a two-week navigation and aircraft safety course. The helicopters fly with a pilot and two paramedics – and one of them is always the navigator.
Darren, who lives in Castleford with partner Ang Gill and 20-year-old son, Luke, spends four weeks on the helicopter and four weeks on road ambulances in Castleford.
“If we just flew on the helicopter we would become trauma specialists,’’ he said. “We provide advanced trauma life support care, but our routine medical skills such as helping people with asthma, diabetes, epilepsy and heart complaints would deteriorate. That’s why we rotate.’’
He reckons he has been on around 1,000 missions since joining the air ambulance in December 2004.
“On average the helicopter goes on around 4 jobs a day – but it can be a lot higher,’’ he said. “My busiest day ever was 12 jobs. You can be landing on an east coast beach on one job and the next could be on the moors above Marsden or in the middle of a city. I’ve certainly seen all of Yorkshire in a day.’’
He added: “Most of the calls we go to are traumatic and can mean the difference between life and death.
“That’s why it’s paradoxically the best of jobs and the worst of jobs. Every call is intense.”
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