What happened when a patient needed assisting during lockdown in summer 2020?

In May 2020, Neil from Torquay was attended and assisted by both a land ambulance crew and Devon Air Ambulance.

At this time, Neil - helped by his wife - was finishing the building of a handicapped access ramp in their church when the circular saw he was using caught the sleeve of his sweatshirt and pulled his left arm into the saw, effectively amputating his arm above the wrist.

His wife Katherine, with a limited phone signal inside, dashed out of the church to call 999. Still talking to the call taker, Katherine then returned to her husband and helped him apply a tourniquet using the electric flex from another power tool – luckily, Neil had previous first aid experience... 

In just 5 minutes the land ambulance crew arrived and administered the maximum amount of morphine permitted – which, in Neil’s words, 'just did not touch the sides of the pain'.

Within another few minutes, Devon Air Ambulance landed and Katherine was relieved to learn that the Air Ambulance team could administer an even greater level of pain relief.

With Ketamine safely given, Neil was then conveyed to the land ambulance to be transferred to Derriford Hospital with DAA paramedic Liam Kilbride in attendance.

Neil asked if he could have anything else to take away the pain and learned that he already had the maximum allowed but, thankfully, he arrived at hospital just 10 minutes later.

The emergency surgery to save Neil’s arm took eight hours with three different surgeons. Neil spent a further 10 days in hospital, and whilst no relatives permitted to visit him, he was attended by ‘a fantastic team’ of medical staff; every time he felt a bit down there was always someone there to raise his spirits – from the surgeons and nurses to the people taking his food order or cleaning the ward – everyone was 100% caring.

For Katherine, meanwhile, the full impact of Coronavirus hit home. Having been traumatised herself by witnessing the accident, she was entirely limited to phone calls with the ward to find out how Neil was doing. 

Katherine also had to re-live the trauma of the accident as she explained it each time to family and friends, none of whom could visit or offer the usual hug of support. Eventually, Neil was up to using the Ipad for Skype calls, which offered some reassurance to Katherine.

After Neil’s discharge from hospital, he began a series of out-patient appointments in Exeter for physiotherapy and specialist hand rehabilitation. Neil explained,

“I will know more in about six months but I’m aware this is probably a two-year recovery. I always say that we have choices in life – we can wallow in self-pity and think how unfair life is that it happened to me, or we can be grateful for being alive and think about how we can use our new situation to benefit ourselves and others – I choose the latter, especially as positive, happy, patients recover better and faster!

I just can’t thank everyone enough; I have had over 50 people looking after me and they were, without exception, just brilliant. Coronavirus and the lockdown took on a whole new meaning for us when I had my accident. But I’ll always be thankful to the ambulance service, the NHS and to Devon Air Ambulance for saving my arm, and my life.

Having learned that the Air Ambulance service receives no Government funding, Neil has recently made a private donation which in his words “could never be enough to repay the service I received”.

It's thanks to your fantastic support that our air ambulance service and expert crews can keep attending our patients. A one-off or regular gift helps us to reach people in Devon in the most severe, time-critical, emergencies. If you feel you can make a gift then your donation truly does make a difference.


  • Banner image: Neil shows the specialist Pico dressing – a battery-operated pump and dressing that constantly sucks air and fluid from the wound, helping to aid healing.
  • Above left: Katherine and Neil