She nearly died - but is now well enough to join a walk raising money for the East Anglian Air Ambulance and Addenbrookes Hospital, which helped save her life

Avril Dobson and her daughter Julie Taylor.
Picture:: Sonya Duncan

Avril Dobson and her daughter Julie Taylor. Picture:: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

It was just over a year ago that Avril Dobson's devastated family were taken to her hospital bedside to say their goodbyes. Now, after a remarkable recovery, the Norfolk grandmother will tackle part of an epic double marathon walk to thank those who saved her.

She was tending the garden she adored when she was struck by a rare type of stroke.

Avril Dobson, a fit and healthy 68-year-old, was found by neighbours who had no idea how long she had been lying in the garden. Paramedics spent nearly an hour working on her before taking her to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital where doctors discovered she had had one of the worst types of bleeding on the brain possible – a subarachnoid haemorrhage.

Her husband Neville, two children and step children were given the devastating news that nothing could be done to save her. Uncontrollable seizures meant a move to a specialist unit at Addenbrookes in Cambridge wasn't possible. She was just too ill.

'It was absolutely devastating,' said her daughter, Jules Taylor. 'We were taken to a side room to say our goodbyes to her. It's not something you ever think will happen to you.'

But in that side room, with all medical intervention cleared away and just a blood pressure monitor left, her family said their goodbyes – and her blood pressure suddenly and unexpectedly dropped.

The change was just enough for Addenbrookes to agree to try to treat her at their specialist Neuro Critical Care Unit – if she was transferred immediately.

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The East Anglian Air Ambulance was ready in just five minutes and she was on her way. Once at Addenbrookes, Avril was taken straight down to theatre to have blood drained from her brain - but doctors cautioned the family that there was still only a small chance she would pull through.

Over the next few days the family had an agonising wait to see if she was neurologically responsive. The aneurysm in her head had been clipped but it was a severe bleed – the damage would not be known for months.

Avril spent the next three months on life support in intensive care. She contracted two further brain infections and pneumonia and went on to have a tracheostomy fitted. But finally, in October last year, Avril made it back to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital high dependency unit where she at last began to regain an awareness of those around her, before beginning rehab at Caroline House, Norwich.

'She had to relearn everything,' said Jules. 'To eat, talk, write, read – everything we had taken for granted had been taken away from her. She had lain in bed for more than five months so had lost all the use of her muscles. And we still didn't know what extend the damage would be.'

In February, she made it home. 'Her recovery is nothing short of a miracle and her doctors all agree,' said Jules, from Caston, near Attleborough.

'She is walking, much of the time now without a stick, and is almost back to normal, chatting happily to everyone.'

Now Jules has created an 'Av's Angels' group, made up of Jules and 50 of her friends and family. They plan to walk the 67-mile flight path the Air Ambulance took with Avril. They hope to complete the distance, which is two and a half marathons, in just two days with Avril joining the last mile of the journey.

'Her journey was incredibly hard and so we want to push ourselves too', said Jules. 'This is an incredibly long walk which will be done at a fast pace over two days – it isn't for the faint hearted!

'Never would we have thought a year ago that mum would be well enough to join us on part of the walk. We are just so grateful we feel we want to put something back.'

Avril added: 'Without the help of these two fantastic organisations and our NHS I would not be enjoying my life today. They without doubt saved my life and put me back onto the road to recovery, and I and my family will forever be grateful.'

The walk from the helipad at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to the Addenbrookes helipad in Cambridge will take place over the weekend of October 7-8 in aid of the East Anglian Air Ambulance and The Neuro Critical Care Unit at Addenbrookes.

'We would urge everyone to give as generously as they can,' said Jules. 'None of us ever thought someone close to us would need the Air Ambulance and the 24-hour care from experts at the hospital but we did and now we want to do our bit to help anyone else who may need it one day.'

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