Air ambulance's 6,000th 'customer'

RICHARD BATSON Alan Garrett did not plan to be a statistic as he went about repairing a window near his north Norfolk home. But when he tumbled 15ft from a scaffold tower, smashing his pelvis to pieces, he became the East Anglian Air Ambulance's 6,000th "customer".

RICHARD BATSON

Alan Garrett did not plan to be a statistic as he went about repairing

a window near his north Norfolk

home.

But when he tumbled 15ft from a scaffold tower, smashing his pelvis to pieces, he became the East Anglian Air Ambulance's 6,000th "customer".

The 58-year-old property maintenance man from Aylsham is slowly learning to walk again now his hips have their own scaffolding - a set of pins and plates to repair the shattered bone.

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And he is full of praise for the flying paramedic service which landed in the nearby street and ensured he had a smooth and swift ride to hospital.

"I was in excruciating pain, after my left leg smashed and punched through the pelvis. But before I knew it, we were in the air and at the hospital inside five or six minutes.

"If we had gone by road, it would have taken 20-30 minutes of bumping along the roads and swerving through the traffic, which would have been much more painful," said Mr Garrett.

Air ambulances are flying high in public awareness after the Yorkshire one whisked Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond to hospital after his dramatic jet dragster crash and threw up a £170,000 flurry of donations in its downdraft.

Meanwhile, East Anglia's equivalent service - the third busiest in the country and flying an average of four missions a day - continues to need to find £150,000 a month to keep its pair of yellow helicopters in the air.

The service is key to helping patients get to hospital inside the first "golden hour" of an accident or medical emergency, to improve their chances of a full recovery.

More than half its work over 5,000 sq miles of the region is dealing with the aftermath of road accidents, but it also deals with other emergencies, particularly in remote areas such as woodland, farms, waterways and the coast.

Last month, its missions included: a 77-year-old with a hip injury at Filby; a 72-year-old with chest and stomach injuries after a crash at Dereham; a 51-year-old hurt in a horse-and-carriage accident at Wells; and a 70-year-old who fell through a greenhouse roof near Bury St Edmunds.

Executive director Simon Gray said money came in from public fund-raising - with donations ranging from £50,000 from major events to a few pounds from a local Brownie pack - as well as regular help from the air ambulance's own lottery.

He said the "Richard Hammond effect" had raised the profile of air ambulances right across the nation, but the local one had yet to see any major rise in fundraising as a result, though that could come later.

Mr Garrett, from Yaxley's Lane, admits to being a "bit bionic now" and still having physiotherapy. An x-ray next month should show how the bones are knitting together, giving a clearer idea of whether he will make a full recovery.

His 11-year-old granddaughter Jorja Nicholls made him an unofficial certificate marking his being the 6,000th casualty.

"It was not something I planned to be - but I am happy to use it to promote the cause, which is a godsend."

To help the East Anglian Air Ambulance, telephone 0845 066 9999 or visit www.angliaone.org.uk