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By his own admission, Lee Phillips, of Yelland near Barnstaple, loves anything to do with motorbikes: riding, watching, maintaining and talking about them.

It was whilst he was out riding his beloved bike, back on Sunday 18 October 1998, when Lee was just 27, that he had a serious accident which put paid to his motorbike riding for many months.

Lee recalls the day as if it were yesterday:

'It was a lovely warm late autumn day and I realised that it might be my last 'good' ride of the year. Little did I know that it was to be my last ride for a whole lot longer than that…

'I’d had a lovely ride to South Devon and was on the way back to Barnstaple approaching a staggered T junction. I slowed down and could see a car waiting at a give-way junction on my left. Just as I got level, however, and was close enough to note the colour of the driver’s glasses, he pulled out in front of me. I immediately tried to avoid the car but there was no time; the car hit my leg and pushed me and my bike over the verge and onto the other side of the road. I remember heading straight for a steel bus-stop pole and thinking please let this be quick, I don’t want to suffer – I was convinced I was going to die.

'Somehow, I missed the pole, and landed in the middle of the opposite carriage-way where a car was coming towards me. Survival kicked in and I tried to move, but saw my legs were at a very strange angle. I emitted a sound that I’ve never heard before nor since.

'Thankfully, some very helpful people rushed to my assistance, one offering first aid and another stopping the on-coming cars.'

A land ambulance was swift to scene and Lee remembers thinking what a long, bumpy drive it was going to be to reach North Devon District Hospital (NDDH), as he heard the land crew voicing concerns over saving Lee’s leg.

The next memory Lee has is hearing a sound that he described as signifying ‘the most amazing relief’ when he realised that the Devon Air Ambulance was arriving ‘to save the day’. He remembers the atmosphere at the scene palpably changed as paramedics Nigel Hare and Steve Wright took over Lee’s care with complete professionalism, leaving Lee feeling that he was in great hands. The aircrew medics assessed Lee’s injuries and administered pain relief, whilst offering quiet constant reassurance before he was stretchered to the waiting helicopter.

The journey to NDDH, which might have taken up to 45 minutes by road, took just seven minutes by air. X-rays revealed compound segmental breaks to Lee’s left leg and a double break in his right leg. Miraculously, and no doubt with thanks to his full leathers and back protector, Lee was relieved to learn that he hadn’t suffered any spinal, pelvic or abdominal injuries.

Help patients like Lee

Waking up from surgery, and having convinced himself that there’d be nothing below his knee, Lee was amazed and delighted to learn that his left leg was still complete. He determined there and then to support Devon Air Ambulance to say thank you.

There followed months featured hard, physical rehabilitation with lengthy sessions of physiotherapy. Incredibly, Lee returned to work in just 14 weeks. Due to the titanium rod in his leg, he was unable to ride a motorbike, so he bought a bicycle instead and clocked up 2,500 miles in the following months, which helped him both physically and mentally.

Lee has followed the progress of the Devon Air Ambulance closely since his accident. Back in 2001 he was among the first players in our in-house Lottery and still plays to this day. He has also participated in every one of our Motorcycle Ride Out events and, most recently, he joined our family of volunteers as a Box Collector in his home area.

As a lockdown project whilst on furlough, he also created individual, bespoke fire pits from metal containers that were destined for industrial waste. Not wanting to miss a trick, and having initially made one a s a fundraiser for the NHS that proved very popular, Lee designed a special one for Devon Air Ambulance. 

When asked about his loyalty to his local Air Ambulance, Lee said:

The Devon Air Ambulance was there for me when I needed them. There was every chance that without their expertise and professional help I might not have survived the crash. I remember thinking as we approached Christmas back in 1998 - just a few weeks after my accident, that my family might have been buying flowers for my coffin - that’s hard to forget. I’ll certainly be a supporter for life.

24 Years later a personal thank you for our founder

Lee was proud to be a part of the recent 30th anniversary celebrations at Darts Farm...

'The launch of the Devon Air Ambulance was a truly incredible event to witness. Amongst the displays, stalls and demonstrations, hardworking employees and numerous volunteers, there were two outstanding stars of the show. The Devon Air Ambulance itself, bringing swift lifesaving care everywhere it flies, what a sight and sound it creates, the crowd it draws! and the biggest star of all, who over 30,000 of us have to thank for changing the outcome of our lives for the positive due to the existence of an air ambulance in Devon.

'Ann Ralli is that star, the 'mother' of the Devon Air Ambulance, whose vision that Devon needed a fast response helicopter medical service, and who’s years of determination that it would be achieved whatever it took.

'30 years of ‘Thank you’s’ to you Ann, for starting the Ceri Thomas appeal, what a difference and a tribute you have made. Thanks again, from all of Devon.'

Thank you for helping patients like Lee by supporting our charity. Your kind generosity helps us to continue to help those who need us when every minute matters.

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