International Women's Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women across the world. At Devon Air Ambulance, we’re looking forward to celebrating the achievements of the women across our team, all the way from hard-working volunteers to the senior leadership team!

However, in the lead up to International Women’s Day, we’d like to honour one woman who is of special importance to the charity: the founder of Devon Air Ambulance, Ann Rali. Without Ann’s tireless work to raise funds for an air ambulance in Devon, we might not be operating the same lifesaving service that we do today.

25 Years of Lifesaving Service in Ann Ralli’s Own Words

“25 years ago, in the first week of our air ambulance service, we all held our breath hoping upon hope that it would prove itself - for those who needed to have their lives saved, and for those who doubted its necessity.  In the first week, it was called out 20 times. For at least four of those, paramedics and ER personnel believed that the victim's life had been saved. One of those was a gardener at Killerton gardens who had disturbed a wasp nest and was stung multiple times, and went into anaphylactic shock. He was given lifesaving treatment in the two minutes that the air ambulance took to get there; later, he said that lying there surrounded by wasps, he thought that the helicopter was another giant wasp coming to get him!

So, that first week the air ambulance showed it was worthy of all the two years of hard work, ups and downs, and fantastic fundraising by the people of Devon.

You made this possible; you the people of Devon took it to your hearts and through an amazing variety of ways raised the money to make our air ambulance a reality.

Every time it was called out it was newsworthy. Every time it could be said to have saved a life it was incredibly awesome and each time the money raised increased.

The service started with a leased helicopter, one pilot, and two paramedics for four days a week in daylight; and with the people of Devon, continuing to raise money in ever increasing amounts, our excellent team running the Charity, and our wonderful pilots and paramedics team, we now have two helicopters owned outright, on call up to 17 hours a day. This is truly amazing, and we, the Thomas family, are so thrilled and proud as would Ceri, in whose name it all began and continues.”

The Ceri Thomas Appeal

In 1986, 18-year-old Ceri Thomas was involved in a collision with a vehicle whilst riding on his push bike. After being taken to hospital by road ambulance, a journey which took around 80 minutes, Ceri sadly passed away due to his injuries. When Ceri’s mother, Ann Rali, later asked doctors if there was anything that could have saved her son, she was told that the quicker a patient receives emergency medical treatment, the better chance there is of survival.

After the tragic death of her son, Ann realised that Devon urgently needed an air ambulance for helping people involved in serious accidents, when every minute counts. In an effort to prevent others from suffering the same loss, she started working hard to raise funds for an air ambulance service. After six years of raising money, on 27th August 1992 the air ambulance landed at Exeter’s Cathedral Green and the service officially went into operation.

Ann recalled, “The emotion was overwhelming. I, along with many others along the way, had achieved what we had set out to do. Ceri’s life had not been in vain.”

Celebrating 25 Years

Since the official launch in 1992, Devon Air Ambulance has developed its service from a single air ambulance flying five days per week to a pair of air ambulances flying seven days per week, and now even into the  night time hours. Along the way, we’ve also hosted a range of events across Devon, launched several charity shops and started our own charity lottery! Most importantly, over 25 years the service has now flown almost 24,000 missions (in 2017 at the time this article was written), to reach people in need across the county.

We want to thank Ann Rali for her hard work as the founder of Devon Air Ambulance.

Do you have a patient story to share? Maybe you would like to jump on board with some fundraising activity? There are lots of ways to get involved with Devon Air Ambulance and make a meaningful difference to the lives of people in Devon. We'd love to hear from you with your ideas, so do get in touch!