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The run up to Christmas 2016 is one that the Tansley family from Exeter will never forget as on 20th December, the then 8-year-old Harry had a freak accident that left him fighting for breath. 

Harry, with his dad, Simon, and brother, Ben, was out on his scooter on Exmouth seafront when he toppled, and the handlebar of his scooter caught him in the throat as he fell. The effect was immediate – Harry had a tear in his windpipe causing air to form under his skin with every breath he took.  

Simon immediately called 999 and first responders were swiftly on scene. They administered an IV drip and called for emergency back up from Devon Air Ambulance. A helicopter with two paramedics and a Doctor was despatched, as well as an emergency car with a further two paramedics. Despite Harry’s face, chest and stomach swelling with every breath, he and Simon remained calm and Harry was able to answer questions coherently. Aircrew paramedic John Shaddick explained,

When we arrived, Harry looked like an 8-year old body builder, he was swollen from his head to his groin. But he and his dad were both amazing – Harry really was a ‘perfect patient’, particularly considering what was happening.  

Among the Devon Air Ambulance aircrew that day was Dr Reed who administered an anaesthetic and a tube was inserted to stop Harry’s throat swelling shut and to keep him breathing. John Shaddick continued, “It was a most unusual situation but the teamwork of everyone working together was brilliant. Everyone; land crew, rapid response crew and aircrew, all knew what needed to be done, both inside and outside the ambulance.”

While Harry was in the back of the land ambulance, being attended by Dr Reed and John Shaddick, fellow paramedic Nick Ratcliff explained each stage of what was happening to Simon and Ben, aged 12, and also called Harry’s mum, Justine, who was at work in Torquay, on the phone. 

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As soon as Harry’s condition was stable, he was transferred to the Air Ambulance for the flight to Bristol Children’s Hospital. Dad, Simon, flew in the aircraft with his son and said “I was so grateful for everything Devon Air Ambulance did that day. From the expertise of everyone looking after Harry at the scene, to the speed that we reached Bristol, it was all incredible. The journey by road would have taken so much longer! As it was, within 30 minutes of leaving Exeter, Harry was being taken through to the Emergency Room for further help.”  Meanwhile, Justine dashed to pick up older son Ben, and they raced to Bristol.

At Bristol Children’s Hospital, Harry was placed in an induced coma and monitored closely for the next few days. Incredibly, when he was gradually woken up on Christmas Eve, his family were amazed and relieved to learn that his windpipe had ‘healed itself’ and there was no longer the need for surgery. Christmas Day was made all the better with a visit from Santa Claus in the morning and, amazingly, he was discharged from hospital in the afternoon and able to return home.

Not surprisingly, Devon Air Ambulance has a very special place in all their hearts, as Justine explained,

Without the skills of all the paramedics and Dr Reed and the helicopter getting him to Bristol so quickly, things would have been so different. DAA saved our son’s life and we owe them everything; this is not just our opinion but the opinion of other medical experts. If Harry hadn’t been sedated, with his airway maintained, and flown to Bristol PICU within the time frame he did he would have died.

"In the months that followed, we all dealt with the accident differently and it was particularly hard for Ben. The memories of that Christmas will never leave us, but we have learned to live with it. Harry recovered really well; he’s now 12 and at senior school. He still loves his scooter, along with his bike and, this summer, he developed a love for paddle-boarding. And his best friend is our golden retriever, Lenox – they’re inseparable!” 

Thank you for helping young patients like Harry by supporting our Christmas campaign this year. Your generosity helps us to continue to be there to care.

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