Former patient, Natasha Harris, shares her first-hand experience of being assisted by Devon Air Ambulance when back in 2011 we were called to assist her as a passenger following a serious road traffic collision and her journey to recovery.

Not only is Natasha resilient and determined to overcome everything she has faced throughout her journey to recovery so far, she is also an inspiration to many who may feel that after suffering huge setbacks, the things they once enjoyed are just not possible.

Before the accident Natasha enjoyed walking in the great outdoors a lot. Here she relays how she refuses to allow this traumatic incident take away the things she loved doing most.

How a split second changed my life forever

'So it is quite personal for me to share my full story, because only nearest and dearest really know it all because they lived through it with me, but I figured I can't really ask you for you to support my fundraiser for Devon Air Ambulance without giving you a bit of background. So, bear with me it's a long one...

'It all started on the 23 of March 2011 when I was passenger in an road traffic collision. It wasn't pretty so I'll spare you the details, but the little Citroen Saxo I was travelling in ended up in a head on collision with a great big Isuzu Trooper and I was left trapped and crushed between the handbrake and dashboard of the car.

I'm not going to lie, it was awful experience but I was truly relieved that once I knew there was a paramedic there I 'conked out'. If I could forget the feeling of my neck cracking and bracing myself for the inevitable, trust me I would.

'I can only give you snippets of the subsequent months based on what my mum has filled me in on and my own sparse recollections. I was taken to RD&E by air ambulance under the incredible care of paramedic Nigel Lang (who has since become a good friend, and my youngest son's Godfather). I was rushed to theatre to stabilize my neck, which is now fused with metal rods.

'Following this initial surgery, I was transferred to Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, where I had an amazing surgeon who compared the repair to my pelvis to completing a 1000-piece interlocking jigsaw puzzle. Today parts of it are now held together with screws and plates – airport security is always an exciting time!

'After a few weeks in Derriford's ICU I was taken back to RD&E, so I could compare ICU departments, but as I was still having an extra long sleep, I have to take my mum's word that it was all perfectly OK.

'At this point, I won’t bore you with the copious tests and scans, plus an operation to stop internal bleeding somewhere, so much happened it would make an extremely long list as well as a total of 4 life saving operations.

The rest of my long stay at RD&E is a blur for everyone, except I do have a really clear memory of my vicar coming to visit, and another of picking lavender when someone pushed me out for a 'walk' (I was wheelchair bound at the time). A police officer also interviewed me while I sat on the floor because dangerously I kept throwing myself out of the standard hospital bed.

'Skip past all the horrid bits, and ignore me being a dreadful patient, and we get to August 2011 and my transfer over to Mardon Neurological Rehabilitation Centre. I'd like to say I became the model patient there, but let's just say I remained the same stubborn independent 19 year old I had always been.'

The highlights of my recovery

'I was originally told that I may never walk again, but that soon changed to, You will always have to have a wheelchair just in case you get tired. I walked out of Mardon several months later (admittedly I got to the end of the path and slumped back into the chair and got wheeled to the car, but shhh).

'Again, we'll skip the ongoing rehab at home because that really is long and boring. I'll sum it up by saying there's been a lot of frustration, pain, tears and tantrums, but along with that some incredibly special highlights:

  • I'm walking independently 100% of the time (the day my wheelchair was returned to NHS was an awesome feeling)
  • I've abseiled down the Exeter fire services training tower
  • I've reached the bottom of the Cascades D’Ouzoud in Morocco (and back!)
  • I walked down the aisle to marry my amazing husband
  • I've had 2 more beautiful children (my first son was just 6 months old when I was in the crash)
  • I have completed Hadrian's Wall which is 90 miles virtually; I had previously completed it in person before the crash.
  • I have virtually cycled the Grand Canyon
  • I have virtually cycled the circumference of Crete (1064km!)
  • I've achieved 2 diplomas and have started studying a criminology and law degree
  • I'm a quarter of the way from Bondi beach to Alice Springs (2021 miles, virtually obviously)
  • Plus, I have raised an awful lot of money for Devon Air Ambulance and decided I'm not stopping there!

The legacy of the accident

'Don't get me wrong I have in no way made a full recovery and I'm not making light of the disability I've been left with - it is far from ideal, but sometimes you just have to make the most of the cards you've been dealt. Here's an insight into my life now:

  • I have shocking balance
  • I can't do a lot of simple every day tasks
  • I walk as though I've had a few too many to drink
  • I have been left with permanent brain damage
  • I have limited use of my left arm/hand
  • I speak weirdly because of damage to my throat from the Tracheotomy that I had to have in order to breathe
  • I have to be extra careful as I choke a lot more easily - even on thin air
  • I can't control my emotions
  • - and as if that's not bad enough I have found a new love for cauliflower cheese after detesting it for 19 years!

Help me to raise funds for Devon Air Ambulance

'So, that brings me to the point of my fundraiser. I set myself a new challenge: within 365 days from 14 July 2020, I would walk (virtually as we weren’t allowed out) from John O’Groats to Lands End! As of mid-June 2021, I have just 30 days left and 171km to go.

I've been counting my daily steps/distance towards this mission, but I hit a bit of an unexpected blip in January where I broke my pelvis in a fall and I had to take a week or so out which put me a little bit behind, so I took the distance I completed on my peloton spin bike instead to put me back on track, but I have walked the rest!

'Having raised funds for DAA through my other activities in the past, for this challenge initially I was aiming for over £1000 which is £1 per km, but then Covid happened and I realised that was a little too ambitious with furlough and everything else, so I'm going to ask if everyone can please help me to raise £400.

'You've read my story and those that know me will know that I am proof that the pilots and medical team at Devon Air Ambulance really are lifesavers. This is a charity that is very close to my heart and very deserving, so please please PLEASE donate anything you can.

'Thank you for your support, from Natasha.'

Please support my fundraiser!

We are so proud of Natasha and truly thank her for her continued support of our service. Throughout the many ups and downs of Natasha’s journey she has so far raised almost £10,000 for us so we are able to continue to help people like her - those of us who may begin a normal car journey like any other then, in a single moment, find ourselves at the heart of a major accident and in need of lifesaving critical care.

If you can support Natasha in reaching her target, please visit her GoFundMe page; she will be thrilled to receive your donation which will give her a real boost now that the finish line is within her sights.