‘I told my husband over and over I loved him’ - Brandon woman relives horror crash which nearly killed her one year on
More than 50pc blood loss, a shattered pelvis, a broken femur, a broken back, a 12in wound down to the spine, internal bleeding and a haemothorax - these were not on Alison Allen’s Christmas list when she was the victim of a horror crash over the festive period last year.
But this year Mrs Allen, from Brandon, is able to spend her Christmas at home with family. She is telling her story to thank the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAA) crew who saved her life.
It comes as EAAA launched its Christmas campaign – Together This Christmas - to encourage people to donate to keep the air ambulance, which receives no government support, flying.
Mrs Allen said: “I had started a new job on July 1, 2016 as a payroll manager and the first six months were certainly full on, stressful and trying times.
“I arrived home on Friday, December 23 and said to my husband: “I’m so glad the Christmas holidays are here, I’m really looking forward to the break. To be honest I could do with a few weeks off to just lie around and do nothing”.
“Little did I know that in exactly a week, that’s just what I would be doing.
“On Friday, December 30 my husband Si and I were curled up on the sofa when I suggested going to visit my parents for a cup of tea and some Christmas cake. I remember getting into my car, I was driving and Si was in the passenger seat. We were travelling towards Mildenhall along the A1065 chatting about booking a weeks holiday at the end of April. Si agreed it would be nice and we said we would have a look together later that evening once we were home.
“The next thing was an almighty bang as we were hit head-on, on the driver’s side by a Black Audi A4 and our car was flipped into the air, then landed and began to slide. Si said it felt like we were sliding for ages – he recalls wanting to correct himself, to try and sit up, but he couldn’t put his hand down to push himself up as the window had smashed and it was just tarmac sliding past him. The car eventually came to a standstill in a wooded area off the road.
“I have no memory of any of this – I only remember what came next, and that was me hanging in the car on my side.
“I remember asking Si - who was below me - to please help me get my seatbelt off as it was really digging in. Si said my seatbelt would not open, so he laid on the floor of the car and held me up the best he could to relieve the pressure of the seatbelt.
“Si said I was fading in and out of consciousness a lot and he had no idea what injuries I had sustained. A few moments later a man appeared, he was the driver in the car behind us, Si told the man I was stuck and that he was trying to hold me to stop the seatbelt cutting in. The man carefully managed to climb in through the boot of my car and put his arms around me to support me. Whilst he was doing this his wife called the emergency services.
“I do remember telling Si how much I loved him and how amazing he was – I told him over and over I loved him. I think I knew I was in trouble and I had no idea what was going to happen. That is the only small memory I have.
“Si recalls hearing the air ambulance arrive, they landed in a field just behind the wooded area where we were. Once they arrived on scene, they arranged for the fire crew to cut the roof of my car as this was the only way they could get both of us out of the car.
“Si remained conscious throughout the whole accident and recovery but he had also sustained a broken sternum and four broken ribs.
“Once the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) crew had me out of the car, things started changing extremely fast. I began to fade very quickly and critical care paramedic Andy Downes and doctor Victor Inyang diagnosed I had a broken pelvis with heavy internal bleeding, a broken femur, suspected spinal damage and possible abdominal/liver damage.
“Once I was strapped to the board for moving, I went into shock and began vomiting. At this point I was anaesthetised, this would protect my heart and brain and give my body a fighting chance of survival. This is also why I have no memory. The EAAA team worked on me at the roadside for around 30 minutes, trying to stabilise me.
“The weather was particularly bad for flying that afternoon and the wonderful pilots Chris Sherriff and Gavin Blake did their very best to get me to Addenbrooke’s. Sadly the cloud closed in and they had to make an emergency landing at their Cambridge base where an ambulance was waiting to take me the rest of the way to Addenbrooke’s by road.
“At Addenbrooke’s I was taken straight to the Neuro Critical Care Unit (NCCU) where I was placed on a life support machine for the next three to four days. I received numerous blood transfusions as I had lost over 50pc of my blood.
“On day two a filter was fitted in one of my main blood vessels to capture any blood clots to stop them reaching my heart or lungs. A metal cage was fitted to my right leg to stabilise it where my femur had broken in two places – just below the ball joint of the hip and at mid-thigh. My right leg had been hit so hard in the impact that it had completely shattered my pelvis, which was in many pieces.
“I had a haemothorax (bleed into the chest cavity) and a drain was inserted into the right side of my chest to allow the blood to drain from around my lung. My right shoulder had been forced out of its socket where the impact had been so hard. I also had a wound across my back which was caused by my jeans on impact – the waistband of my jeans had acted as a tourniquet and sliced through my skin. The wound was 12in long and 2in wide and down to my spine. The back wound was left to self-heal and eventually closed up on 31st July (just over seven months).
“Once I was stable enough to undergo surgery the consultant and his team spent around seven hours operating on my pelvis. My pelvis had to be reassembled as best as they could get it and was carefully put back together using what is known as an infix – a long steel/titanium rod and two large screws with eye bolts. I also had various screws and plates inserted around my middle section.
“I had further surgery of around eight hours to fix my right leg – a rod was inserted through the bone from my right hip down to my right knee.
“My back was broken – a crushed fifth lumbar vertebrae and a small fracture in the fourth. No surgery was required as luckily there appeared to be no debris near the spinal cord and my back was still aligned.
“I was in NCCU for around seven days and was then moved up to the High Dependency Unit (HDU), where I spent just over two weeks. The next step was to move me up to the Orthopaedics ward and here I stayed for about three weeks, before being sent to West Suffolk Hospital, where I spent nearly ten weeks.
“I was completely bed-bound and not able to weight bear. My back needed 12 weeks to heal itself and the pelvic infix would also take around 12 weeks to heal. I had little movement – I could lie on my back and I could sit to a maximum of 60 degrees and that was it.
“Whilst lying in hospital for so many weeks, I thought about many things. I was aware it was thanks to EAAA that I had got to hospital in record time and I felt in my heart it was because of them I was still here. I was always very emotional when I saw and later heard the air ambulance landing at Addenbrooke’s.
“I messaged EAAA once I was more aware of what was going on and thanked them. I was thrilled when they replied to say I could visit when I was better. What a great day that would be – I was certainly going to take up that offer as soon as I was able to.
“At 12 weeks I went back to Addenbrooke’s to see the neurology consultant who was happy with my back and said I could now sit at 90 degrees and commence weight bearing if approval was also given to do the same from the orthopaedic consultant. Unfortunately I had to wait another week for the orthopaedic consultant’s approval to sit at 90 degrees, but what a fantastic day that was.
“Si arrived just as I was sitting up on the edge of the hospital bed, with my legs dangling – he was so overwhelmed. I hadn’t realised how important this moment was, because if I couldn’t sit up I would never walk again and if I could sit up there was a greater chance I would walk.
“I had completed daily physio exercises in the hospital bed to help minimise the risk of blood clots and to try to keep the blood pumping through my muscles. The physio team estimated I had lost around 65pc of my leg muscle in both legs and explained it might take a number of days to get my blood pressure stabilised to allow me to stand and I must not expect too much.
“At week 14 (Wednesday, April 5) I finally received the news I had been waiting for from my Addenbrooke’s consultant – I could try to fully weight bear on both legs from Thursday, April 13. The excitement set in and no matter what, I was determined I was going to prove everyone wrong and walk on the first day.
“The physios arrived at 9am on April 13, the hospital bed was lowered and I placed my feet on the ground, I bent forward to put weight through my legs and they were a little shaky. I slowly pulled myself up, with assistance from one of the physios and held onto the walking frame to steady myself.
“My legs were seriously wobbling, but I was definitely standing and it felt fantastic. I then took my first step and proceeded to walk about eight metres in the first go – it was utterly fantastic. I was discharged the following Wednesday and began my recovery at home.
“I have been working hard with my physiotherapists and I’m convinced I will regain a full recovery. It’s now nearly ten months since my accident and I’m getting stronger all the time.
“I know the surgeons, consultants and their teams worked miracles on me, but, if it hadn’t been for the amazing EAAA team saving me, there wouldn’t have been any work for Addenbrooke’s to do.
“I am completely indebted to EAAA and intend to fundraise and volunteer for them. I will never be able to thank them enough for saving my life that day.”
In September the driver of the Audi was prosecuted for causing serious injury whilst dangerous driving and for driving under the influence of a cocktail of illegal drugs. The driver is serving a prison sentence of 28 months and was also disqualified from driving for just over four years.
Donations to EAAA can be made by clicking here or by calling 03450 669 999.