On the fifth anniversary of a traumatic accident at work, a Norfolk farmer has finally met the air ambulance doctor who helped save his life.

Tim Papworth, 47, a director of family firm L F Papworth at Felmingham, near North Walsham, fell from a 14ft ladder onto a concrete floor while changing a light bulb in a potato store in Tunstead in October 2010.

He suffered two bleeds on his brain, but the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) crew was able to stabilise and sedate him before carrying him to the specialist trauma unit at Addenbrooke's hospital in Cambridge within the critical 'golden hour' which determines a patient's chances of recovery.

Mr Papworth was able to show his gratitude to helicopter doctor Haris Begovic during an emotional reunion at Norwich Airport.

'You cannot give someone enough when they have given you your life,' he said. 'You cannot give them a box of chocolates or a bottle of whisky. So my gift is to do everything I can to promote the work of the EAAA, and everybody who helped save my life.

'My last memory (before the accident) was climbing the ladder and getting to the top. For most of the rest of it, I was blacked out with a serious head injury. It just shows how something as simple as changing a light bulb can go so badly wrong.

'Without the air ambulance it would take two-and-a-half hours to get to Addenbrooke's by land, but the EAAA was able to get me there in record-breaking time. Without that, I'm pretty sure I would have ended up with brain damage.'

Mr Papworth said he owed his life to the air ambulance's ability to access his rural workplace, and the fact that the helicopter carries doctors as well as paramedics, so they were able to administer anaesthetic and drain his chest on site.

By a happy coincidence Dr Begovic, originally from Bosnia, but now based in Austria, was back in Norfolk for the anniversary of Mr Papworth's accident.

'It is unbelievable,' he said. 'I just came back to spend a few days here, so I'm really glad to see Tim.

'He was my first call-out, and my first anaesthetic in the UK – and I have done a few. The last time I saw him was five years ago and he was not in such a good condition.

'To see him now makes me really happy. Having seen someone who you were unsure if he was going to make it or not, and five years later to see that he's alright – that is absolutely something that gives you the power to keep going.'

The road to recovery

After his accident, Mr Papworth was put into a drug-induced coma for five weeks, and part of his skull was removed to prevent the swelling of his brain from causing permanent damage.

After being replaced by a titanium plate a year later, that piece of bone – the size of his hand – is now kept in the farm's safe as a memento of his experience.

He said the accident and the long recovery period had a major knock-on effect on his family, and on the family business. But, as well as the air ambulance crew, he said he was grateful to the farm workers who called 999, the community first responders, and the Colman Hospital in Norwich which helped him through his speech and occupational therapy. The only lasting damage is impaired hearing in his left ear.

'I had a team of people making sure I got on the right road,' he said. 'I feel very lucky to be able to tell my story today. I have been through hell and back, but when I look back I feel very fortunate that the people who helped me were able to save my life.'