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How the air ambulance has been saving lives for a decade

PUBLISHED: 14:00 15 March 2010 | UPDATED: 08:50 02 July 2010

The air ambulance.

The air ambulance.

Emma Knights

For a decade the East Anglian Air Ambulance has been taking to the skies to help sick and injured people.

Emma Knights finds out more about this life-saving charity.

Emma Knights

For a decade the East Anglian Air Ambulance has been taking to the skies to help sick and injured people.

Emma Knights finds out more about this life-saving charity.

The East Anglian Air Ambulance has been on about 10,000 rescue missions, helping people when they need it most by providing specialist care at scenes of incidents and getting patients to hospital fast.

“In 10 years, the charity has grown from flying one helicopter one day a week to operating two highly advanced, well-equipped aircraft which serve the populations of four counties 365 days a year,” said Simon Gray, chief executive of EAAA, which this year alone needs to raise about £3.5 million to fund the service which relies almost entirely on donations.

“We're proud to have reached this milestone and deeply grateful to everyone in the region who has helped us reach it. Without the public's help, we wouldn't be able to operate our life-saving service.”

Anglia One covers Norfolk and Suffolk while Anglia Two covers Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire, and about four emergency missions are flown each day.

In the past, the air ambulance has been more of a retrieval service, but Mr Gray explained this is changing.

By September EAAA hopes to employ full-time doctors alongside the service's critical care paramedics. Currently the service relies on volunteer doctors but they are not always available.

Mr Gray said: “We are trying to take A&E to the incident by taking highly trained clinicians to the scene.

“We love our paramedics. They are superb and highly trained and very used to the nature of the role. But the doctors can intervene at a higher level and I think the additional experience for the doctors of actually seeing the nature of the trauma in the field, will also help them greatly in treating the patient.”

The EAAA is setting up a clinical centre to train its paramedics and doctors together. It is also helping establish a network of lit helipads at the region's main hospitals so patients can be airlifted between hospitals at night.

Further into the future the EAAA wants to operate a 24 hour air ambulance service instead of just during daylight hours.

For more information about EAAA call 0845 0669999 or visit www.eaaa.org.uk

Reporter Emma Knights spent a day with the Anglia One team.

A two-year-old girl is thought to have stopped breathing and ambulance control wants the air ambulance at the scene at Leiston, Suffolk, and fast.

Within seconds we are out of the hangar at Norwich Airport, on to the air ambulance and up into the sky.

Pilot Neil Waller is listening to critical care paramedic Ben Caine who is navigating, while critical care paramedic Dan Cody is working out the possible weight of the two-year-old so they can give her the right dose of adrenaline to treat her as soon as they land.

Fortunately the emergency is not as bad as first thought. A land ambulance and rapid response vehicle are at the scene, and Anglia One is stood down as we are flying over Bungay.

This was the first of three incidents Anglia One went out to on February 26 - the others were road crashes at Stuston, near Diss, and Foxley. While each time the air ambulance was eventually not needed, the potential seriousness of the situations illustrates the importance of the service.

With top flying speeds of about 150mph and the nearest A&E department never more than 13 minutes away, the air ambulance's speed can mean the difference between life and death.

But the air ambulance is not just about speed, it is also about its medical team's specialist skills.

The EAAA critical care paramedics all have at least four years' land ambulance experience and specialist training allowing them to perform more medical procedures than most land ambulance paramedics.

Ben said: “We can give additional painkillers. We can use bone drills to give fluid and drugs, and we can cut surgical airways.

“We also do not have to take patients to the nearest hospital; we can chose to take them to a specialist hospital such as Addenbrooke's.”

If the air ambulance medical team is a doctor and paramedic, as opposed to two paramedics, more specialist treatment is available.

Dan said: “When we have a doctor on board we can anaesthetise patients and put in chest drains at the scene. With a doctor on board it is effectively A&E going out to the scene and the doctor-paramedic model is the aspiration of the region.”

A Big Birthday Bash is being held this Saturday in Norwich for the EAAA.

The event is in memory of 24-year-old Matthew Jones, from Stalham, who died in a car crash on the A1151 in Rackheath on Good Friday last year.

Ever since his family have raised funds for the EAAA by running marathons and other races, and Mr Jones' sister Hannah Redding, a 29-year-old mother of two from Wroxham, hopes the Big Birthday Bash will boost their fundraising.

She has organised the event with her friend Maria Veronese, a 40-year-old journalist from Weston Longville with whom she is running the London Marathon next month for the EAAA.

Mrs Redding said her family chose to support the air ambulance because Mr Jones had worked at Norwich International Airport and because it was such a worthy life-saving cause.

She said: “The big birthday bash is going to be a great party. We have music from Scratch the Cat, a hog roast and lots of giant pub games. There will be an auction and raffle where you could win a helicopter ride for two.”

The Big Birthday Bash which has a heroes and villains theme is at EPIC, in Magdalen Street, Norwich, from 7.30pm. Tickets cost £15.

To book visit www.runningformatthew.com or call 07749 508445.

For Nina Whear the air ambulance played a vital role in saving both her and her twins.

While births are usually happy occasions, for the Whears it could have ended in tragedy after Mrs Whear developed an aortic dissection in January 2009 while nine months pregnant with her son and daughter Alfie and Evie.

Part of the wall of her aorta had torn causing blood to flow between the layers of the wall and force them apart, an often fatal condition.

A land ambulance took Mrs Whear to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) where the aortic dissection was diagnosed, but to be treated she needed to be transferred to Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.

However, Papworth has no maternity unit, and so the air ambulance flew an N&N obstetric team to the hospital.

“I was in no condition to fly so I was taken by land ambulance but all the obstetric team and equipment were flown to Papworth. They had to be ready to go when I arrived at the hospital,” said Mrs Whear, who at the time was given only a seven percent chance of survival.

After the twins were delivered by caesarean section Mrs Whear underwent an operation to repair her aorta.

“I was only the second person in the world to survive that operation,” said Mrs Whear, of The Street, Lamas, near Coltishall, and married to army sergeant Andy Whear, 39.

“I see myself as one of the luckiest people on earth. I am alive and Andy and I have two scrumptious babies, but the situation could have been so different without the air ambulance and all the medical teams involved.”

David and Molly Webb, 65 and 56, have raised thousands for the EAAA by running up to six tombolas a week across the county at events including the Royal Norfolk Show and Cromer Carnival.

The Norwich couple, who have four children and three grandchildren and live in Penn Grove, found out how vital the air ambulance is when Mr Webb had a heart attack while driving on the A11 in 2005.

He was taken to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital by land but needed to be airlifted to Papworth Hospital for surgery to fit a stent into one of the arteries at the back of his heart.

Mr Webb, who estimates they raise about £10,000 a year, said: “Time was of the essence and they helped save me. The air ambulance is a fantastic service and we cannot do without it.”

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