Photo: Air Ambulance Pilot Mark Howard-Smith, nurse Emily McWhirter, paramedic Charles Leahy, Dr John O’ Neill and David Johnstone.
A Warnham father who almost died in a farming accident has been reunited with the Kent, Surrey & Sussex Air Ambulance team who helped save his life.
David Johnstone, 53, was strapping a load of hay bales on a trailer when he slipped and fell 10ft onto the back of a tractor.
He impaled himself on a blunt metal spike and suffered a penetrating chest injury which narrowly missed his vital organs.
The air ambulance was called due to the severity of his injuries and the doctor and paramedic carried out emergency life-saving treatment at the scene.
David said: “My immediate reaction was that I was just going to pick myself up. I took a couple of steps and fell over so the people I was working with took me over to a bale and I slumped over it.
“I saw blood coming out of my chest and arms and every breath I took was smaller than the previous one because one of my lungs had collapsed. I was in absolute agony and thought I was going to die, it was terrifying.
“The pressure had built up in my chest cavity and was putting pressure on my heart so my blood pressure went very low.
“On the other hand it almost couldn’t have happened in a better place because if it had been two inches or more either way, I would have died.”
David had finished his day job as a masonry consultant and was helping a friend on the farm in West Chiltington when the accident happened in July.
South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) Community First Responder Peter Davis, critical care paramedic Lewis Allam and his colleagues Christian Clarke and Laura Benham were first on scene and found David fighting for breath.
They called in the air ambulance due to his life-threatening injuries and in the meantime gave him oxygen and pain relief.
Lewis said: “Upon re-assessment of the patient it was clear that his condition was worsening due to either blood or air being trapped around his lung and at this point the helicopter was overhead.”
Pilot Mark Howard-Smith landed in the field before his colleagues, Dr John O’Neill, nurse Emily McWhirter and paramedic Charles Leahy gave David further pain relief.
They also performed a chest drain to help him with his breathing – an advanced medical procedure usually performed only in hospital.
Dr O’Neill said: “When we arrived it was obvious David was very unwell with a major chest injury. He looked pale, clammy and his breathing was very laboured.
“There was a hole in his chest which was sucking in air every time he breathed, causing his lung to collapse and making his blood pressure dangerously low.
“It was clear he was deteriorating rapidly and needed urgent surgery to fix the problem which could not wait until he got to hospital.
“We sedated David and inserted a tube into his chest to relieve the build up of pressure. This had an immediate effect as David's blood pressure and oxygen levels returned to normal, and by the time we arrived at hospital he was looking much better, even managing to crack a joke.”
David was airlifted to the Royal Sussex County Hospital major trauma centre in Brighton where he spent the next six days.
The father-of-two has since made an almost full recovery and recently met the charity helicopter crew for the first time since his accident.
He added “When the air ambulance arrived I thought it must be quiet serious but I wasn’t aware of the level of expertise and equipment on board.
“Now I know that’s what made the difference and I wouldn’t be here today otherwise. I just wanted to say thank you in person because one of the most valuable things you can give is your time.
“It was very important for me to do that and it was absolutely marvellous to see them and say thanks.”
David is now back at work and planning to join his sons as a roadie when they tour the UK with their progressive rock band hAND in the New Year.