Helen's Story - Great Western Air Ambulance Charity
GWAAC -COVID-19 Statement
Jayne McKinlay – An international, lifesaving Doctor in the GWAAC team
March 8, 2022
GWAAC Critical Care Doctors called to Ukraine
March 21, 2022

On 22nd December 2021 Helen James, a competitive international horse rider, was enjoying a day’s riding with her friends just before Christmas. But things didn’t go to plan when her horse unexpectedly bucked, launching Helen into the air. Helen can’t remember anything that happened after this moment, or indeed for the next three days. Her friends, family, and doctors have been able to fill her in on the course of events.

No memory

When Helen fell off, she unluckily landed on her head and was knocked unconscious. Her friends immediately called 999 and stayed with Helen until Great Western Air Ambulance Charity’s (GWAAC) Critical Care Team arrived on scene. Owing to where the incident was, the crew were able to land almost right next to Helen which meant they could get to her really quickly.

Critical Care Doctor Jamie Vassallo, Specialist Paramedic in Critical Care (SPCC) Mark Kinsella, and Trainee SPCC Callum Sutton assessed Helen at the scene and gave her the treatment and care she needed, before flying her to Gloucestershire Royal Hospital where she was met by the trauma team.

In addition to a head injury, Helen also suffered a dislocated finger, which the team were able to re-locate before transporting her to hospital.

Helen had brain and body scans in hospital. She remembers being woken up just before she could go home. Due to the pandemic, Helen was allowed to go home a little earlier with a promise from her dutiful husband that he’d keep a close eye on her for the next forty-eight hours.

The scariest thing for Helen was, “the potential seriousness of the accident.” She says, “I’ll be forever grateful to the amazing GWAAC crew and NHS staff in the hospital. They were certainly the best part of my day. Such kind and caring people”.

Getting back to normal

The fact that Helen can’t remember her journey home from hospital shows how badly she’d been concussed. Thankfully, Helen has no long-term damage. But she does reflect back on her road to recovery, realising that she hadn’t been getting “back to normal” as quickly as she thought.

Helen believes that one benefit of having no memory of the incident is she had no qualms about getting back in the saddle. Horses are a massive part of her life; they’re her passion, her sport, and her business.

“I was told not to do sport or riding for three weeks which I found very hard because I’m so active and competitive. I started back doing some light sports.”

Helen has gently eased her way back into the saddle, with her sights fixed on the Regional, and hopefully National dressage championships in March. This, and the winter National championships have been a real motivator in her recovery, giving Helen something to aim for.

To help her get back to fitness and to show her support for GWAAC, Helen has also been training for the Bath Half Marathon in May. “It’s a way,” she says, “of trying to say thank you to my local air ambulance charity”.

A chance to say thank you

Helen has yet to visit the crew at the airbase due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, but she did get a chance to say thank you to the same crew that helped her in a chance meeting a couple of months later.

“I was driving down a country lane, and the air ambulance landed in a nearby field. I jumped out to ask them if I could help stop the traffic. They recognised me and said,‘we picked you up a couple of weeks back.’ It was lovely, I was able to say thank you there and then.”

Helen’s plans for the future, aside from her horsey ambitions include, “doing as much fundraising for GWAAC as I can this year. I am extremely grateful for all the crew’s love and care and attention. I think the crew and NHS staff are truly amazing people.”

Critical Care Doctor Jamie Vasallo, says: “It is absolutely wonderful to hear that Helen is doing well, and better than that, is back in the saddle! This tasking really highlights the benefit of a Critical Care Team being able to deploy by helicopter; where owing to the location of the incident, we are able to not only land in such close proximity, but to be first on scene with the capability of delivering critical care should it be required. We all really look forward to welcoming Helen to the airbase and showing her around the helicopter!”

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