NHS70: The health service heroes who saved builder who fell through roof
PUBLISHED: 06:40 05 July 2018 | UPDATED: 08:41 05 July 2018
Archant Norfolk 2018
On February 17 last year, 56-year-old Allan Morgan, from Witton, fell six metres through a roof. He broke his spine, pelvis, and wrist – and was at risk of bleeding to death.
However, thanks to the efforts of around 100 people he survived.
Today, to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS both he, and we, say thank you to the many people within it who save people like Allan every day.
And in a special report, health correspondent Geraldine Scott spoke to just some of the heroes who helped Allan.
Allan, a builder, struggles to remember much of what happened on February 17, 2017.
But for his wife Natalie, the memories are stark.
“I was at home and I got a call from the air ambulance, they said ‘we’ve just brought your husband in, it’s nothing to worry about, take your time,” Natalie, 50, said.
But knowing the air ambulance was only called to the most serious incidents, Natalie rushed to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, 12 miles away.
Both the couple’s daughters, Nicole, 27, and Ellie, 21, lived in London at the time and dropped everything to dash to Liverpool Street station to be by their dad’s side.
In the meantime Natalie arrived to find her husband in agonising pain in A&E, surrounded by medical staff.
“His arm was all bandaged but he was conscious and moving his legs and saying he was in so much pain. They started putting tubes and things in and giving him some pain relief.”
The family were then moved to the relatives room, where they endured a long wait to find out Allan’s fate.
“All I kept thinking was he will be okay, he will be fine,” Natalie said.
But then Ben Davis, consultant trauma surgeon, who had been called in from home due to the severity of Allan’s condition, explained the significance.
He told the anxious family Allan had broken his spine, his pelvis, and his wrist. He also had internal bleeding, which was causing them most concern, as it could kill him.
“I was waiting for him to say he was going to be okay,” said Natalie. “But that didn’t come, they just said I could go and see him before he goes to surgery.”
For all Natalie knew, that might have been the last time she saw her husband.
“It was a long night waiting,” she said. “It was a good few hours later we got in to see him and were told it had gone well. The first thing he said to me was ‘I’m think I’m going to have to stay in hospital tonight’.”
But it would not just be that night Allan spent in hospital. Instead he spent the next two weeks at the NNUH, with Natalie visiting every day.
He endured three operations, moving through the intensive care unit, to the high dependency unit, and then finally onto Gateley Ward.
Allan said: “They showed me on the screen the pelvis and it was all over the place, completely shattered. They were scared I was going to get fluid on my lungs because I had to lay down because of the broken spine. “
The impact on Allan has been long-lasting and the effects caused a ripple effect throughout the family.
Natalie, who works at Tesco, reduced her hours and the couple’s eldest daughter Nicole had moved home to be closer to her family. Natalie said: “I think she just realised life is too short.”
Allan had some counselling last year and still sees a psychologist now to deal with the flashbacks he suffers. And he has intensive physiotherapy to try and recover the best he can.
“I’m lucky to be here,” Allan said. “It was just all the staff, from when I can remember to going back for follow up appointments, they’ve been fantastic. They are brilliant people.”
Dale Gedge, 35, from Norwich, was booked on as officer for the day and was the first one on the scene.
He said: “As soon as I got out of my car and got my kit I could hear he was in a lot of distress and then when I got to him and established where he had fallen from it was obvious he could have life threatening injuries.
“It was a significant height so as a first person on scene my job is to carry out a primary survey which is a really rapid assessment.
“I guess the key thing with Allan was purely because of the height I was initially worried about his spine, and moving on from there he had a very obvious wrist injury. An injury like that is horrible but usually not life threatening so I had to put that to one side and go through this rapid assessment which was a query over whether he had fractured his pelvis, which can be a life threatening injury because someone can bleed the whole contents of their body into that cavity.
“The pelvis fracture was the big one. I then updated the critical care team knowing they were on their way to let them know he was a time critical patient.
“And then I guess from there it becomes quite difficult as a solo responder because I was on my own, he was in a lot of pain, so it was basically giving him analgesia.
“I was able to give him gas and air because that’s very easy to set up, it can be done in a matter of seconds, and then the next priority was to try and get intravenous access to start considering what he might need.”
By the time Dale had done all this, Tom Miller and Abigail Alderton had arrived as well as the critical care team from East Anglian Air Ambulance, who took the lead.
“I think [making those rapid assessments] gets less challenging with experience because you do kind of flick into autopilot a little bit. We are drilled quite heavily so that initial 90 seconds to two minute assessment and not getting distracted by bone sticking out of his wrist is key.
“I think it’s really rewarding [to save a life].
“It gives you a massive sense of job satisfaction and the pressure the NHS is under - and the pressures are felt by everyone – it means cases like Allan are the reason we all do it ultimately. There are lots of downsides in working in the NHS at times but cases like Allan are the reason we do it.”
Tom Miller, a 36-year-old paramedic from Loddon, responded to the call.
It was on Tom’s first shift as a qualified paramedic, although he’d already done five years on the road.
He said: “It was quite late in my shift, it was around rush hour and we were in Norwich so we didn’t have far to go, but that means we didn’t have that long to think about the job.
“Usually we get details and have some time to think about what we need to do but all we knew is a man had fallen through a roof so me and Abbie thought it sounded serious.
“One of the things we do train for is trauma related injuries. But although we absolutely know what we have got to do it’s not something we practice in real life very often.
“So when we got there we were quite relieved to see Dale already there, that takes a bit of the pressure off what we need to do. Because of the height he had fallen and onto an unforgiving surface, onto concrete, one of the first priorities has to be to keep him as still as possible. “
Tom was also conscious of any unseen pelvis injury, which could be life-threatening.
Once Allan was in the back of the ambulance preparations were already being made for his arrival at hospital.
“What happens is we call ahead and in A&E they pick up their red phone and we tell them what we’re coming in with, so they can take him straight through when we arrive.
“I’d like to think by the time we got him there he was in a more relaxed situation. Everything we did for Allan should have improved how he was, we put a pelvic binder on his pelvis because usually if you break your pelvis it can open up, this holds it all together. It should help stem that bleeding.”
On how it felt to have helped save Allan’s life, Tom said: “I suppose we knew he probably had life-threatening injuries, we prepared for the worst. These are the kind of jobs we train for and hopefully we put people at a bit of ease. It makes you feel proud. A lot of the time we are going to jobs which are not as serious and sometimes those jobs don’t feel as fulfilling. Knowing we are a small part of his recovery is why we all do it.”
The emergency technician
Abigail Alderton, a 30-year-old emergency medical technician from Griston, was crewed with Tom for the day.
“I remember Tom didn’t want it to be a crazy shift because he had only just qualified as a paramedic,” she said. “And it wasn’t up until that call.
“When you get a trauma call through, you don’t get them very often, so there was a lot of apprehension.”
Abigail said it was a challenge to reach Allan, and they could not get the ambulance close to where he was.
“It was quite a difficult working environment,” she said.
“I remember he was laying on the floor and he was really confused. I remember seeing where he had fallen from and thinking there’s a lot of damage been done here.”
She said the challenge with major trauma is often unseen injuries were the most dangerous.
She said: “So we just took a deep breath and went through bit by bit.”
On being part of saving a life, Abigail said: “Obviously that’s why I do the job, we go to work to save lives.
“It makes all the hard work and rubbish jobs we go to where we don’t get a good outcome worth it.
“And we never get the opportunity to follow up, so it’s nice to know he is recovering.”
The trauma surgeon
Allan’s injuries were so severe that one of the hospital’s most senior surgeons was called in from home.
Consultant trauma surgeon Ben Davis, 43, was the first of three to operate on Allan.
Ben said: “I was at home on in the evening about 5.30pm and I got a phone call to say Allan was in A&E having fallen through a roof and they thought he was bleeding to death from his pelvis.
“My involvement was to come into A&E, assess him, look at his imaging - it was a serious injury.”
And Ben was then the surgeon to put Allan’s pelvis back together.
“If you look at the literature it says that if you take a patient with these injuries they are more likely to die than not.
“Mortality rate for this particular fracture is about 30pc with patients dying from uncontrollable bleeding.
“I didn’t fix everything but I stopped him from bleeding and kept him alive.
“But actually it’s about the initial reaction, what the paramedics do to keep them stable, the nursing staff and medical staff in A&E.
“And the people who work in theatre.
“Saving a life is the pinnacle of your job, this one is one to remember.”
After his surgery, Allan’s care would have moved to the critical care team for the first tentative days of recovery.
This treatment on the intensive care unit, and then on the high dependency unit, would have been essential in his recovery.
Lesley Little, 58, is a sister on the critical care complex. She said: “Our first job would have been to make sure Allan got an appropriate nurse to look after him.
“He was one-to-one for a while, and was with us for three days and in between he had some more surgery. We deal with critically life-threatening and life-changing injuries, so Allan’s condition was quite serious. Teamwork is vital in most areas, and in cases like this.
“We don’t always manage to save lives, but when we do it feels great if you can make a difference.”
The deputy sister
After a few days Allan moved to Gateley Ward, which specialises in orthopaedics.
The move to Gateley was a good sign Allan’s condition was improving, but there was still a long way to go.
Laura Rackham, 30, from Lowestoft is deputy sister on the ward. She said: “In step down our job is to carry on the care, get them on physio and keep going. It’s not so intensive care.
“I know people remember Allan from when he was there – he was with us for a couple of weeks – and they’re so pleased he’s recovering.
“Knowing you’ve been part of saving a life makes you feel quite valued; mostly it’s nice to get praise when things can be tough.”
The impact on Allan was not just physical but psychological too. And after he left hospital he had a course of counselling. Tracey Blackett, 50, is a counsellor with Wellbeing Norfolk and Waveney, based in North Walsham.
She said: “I first met with Allan in October when he shared with me the details of his accident and described the psychological impact.
“Allan shared that he had said his goodbyes to the family as they did not think that he would survive the night.
“Over our 11 counselling sessions we explored the impact of the accident, including the loss of role and associated impact on mood and self-esteem. The accident had compromised Allan’s ability to provide for his family, instead he felt a burden which was magnified by his physical dependency for support.
“Initially Allan felt very isolated, he was in physical pain and was reluctant to discuss his emotional needs with his family for fear of burdening them further. The counselling process helped Allan to make sense of his emotions and encouraged open communication within his personal relationships allowing the family, as a unit, to best process the event and reconnect.”
Allan’s journey to recovery did not end when he left hospital and still today he is having physiotherapy.
Thaleia Karyeti, his physiotherapist, said with Allan she worked on more functional exercises and the aim was to enable him to walk without a stick.
The 31-year-old from Norwich said: “It’s not about the severity of the injury because any injury which sets you back is a serious injury. But in this case Allan was more physical so it might take more time and more effort.”
On the importance of physiotherapy in recovery she added: “It’s a big one, because physiotherapy will help with the improvement of the physical and the functional. It’s a very serious and important step in the recovery process.”