In 2017, Martin Henderson was flown to St George’s hospital helipad by Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance, after a gust of wind caused him to crash into a cliff while paragliding.
Martin’s wife Wendy was on the way to work when it happened. She takes up the story:
“Martin left in the morning at 9am, and I had to go to work that evening as I’m part of the cabin crew at BA. I tried calling Martin but there was no reply, but I thought he’s just up in the air flying.
“I was on the crew bus ready to check in for my flights and the phone rang with a number I didn’t recognise. I wouldn’t normally take it but something made me. There was a gentleman called Paul and he said, ‘Are you Wendy?’ I said yes. He said Martin’s had an accident. I’m with him, but Martin has been very badly injured. And they’re going to airlift him to St Georges. I just needed to get there as soon as possible.”
After landing on the HELP Appeal funded helipad, Martin was taken on a short trolley ride to the emergency department at St George’s. His injuries were extensive and included a closed midshaft femur, left hip dislocation andspinal immobilisation
Wendy explains the appeal of paragliding:
“Martin was a risk taker. He got into paragliding because he loved the flexibility. After work if he fancied it, he could just jump off a cliff. Prior to that it was freefall, where you jump out of an airplane at 16,000 feet and freefall through the air. It was the adrenaline and the endorphins. He always wanted to push himself to the limit. And that’s what attracted me to him.
“Martin’s father was in the army and ever since he was four years old, he always wanted to be in the parachute regiment. It was an ultimate dream to throw yourself out of an aircraft with a parachute on your back.
“He joined the 3rd battalion of the Parachute regiment. You could tell he was a Para from his fitness and mental agility. After he left, he wanted to replicate that thrill by joining the paragliding club.”
During emergency treatment, there was a sudden drop in Martin’s blood pressure. The hospital registrar explains:
“In a trauma patient, this suggests that the patient is bleeding internally. They are potentially going to die if we don’t sort it out quickly.”
“I knew it was serious. It could have been the end.”
Martin had to have an emergency CT scan which showed multiple fractures to his spine and spinal cord damage. If Martin had been moved inappropriately there was a very real risk that he could have been paralysed. Being airlifted to a helipad right beside the ED, instead of being transferredto a road ambulance, was essential to Martin’s survival and recovery.
Martin needed immediate surgery to stabilise the fractures in his legs. He then received treatment for the fracture in his spine before doctors were able to determine if he could walk again. But his health deteriorated. Wendy says:
“After Martin’s first operation on his femurs, he was rushed to the neuro intensive unit where he was placed in a coma, intubated and on a feeding tube. Inside I was feeling very scared. After 8 days in a coma, doctors woke Martin up. As far as all the consultants are concerned, he is a miracle. Seven weeks later Martin took his first steps.”
“The parachute regiment teaches you to feel indestructible but when you have an accident like I did, you realise, you’re not.When you come close to death, every day after that is joyous. Nothing can get your down because you’ve survived that encounter and it’s definitely made me treasure my relationship with Wendy. She means the world to me.
The helipad ensured that I was delivered into the right hands promptly, which can only be a good thing. Any delay in treatment could have been detrimental to my health and the final outcome.
“The flight took just seven minutes from the crash site to the hospital. This speed would not have been possible in a road ambulance.
“I can’t thank the HELP Appeal enough. The whole package – the air ambulance, helipad and hospital, saved my life.”