Harry Hollowell was close to death after being crushed by a 10-tonne telehandler. His mum Rosanne kindly shares their story with us, while we give an insight into the work of our critical care team and the after care provided by our Patient and Family Liaison Nurse, Kirsty Caswell.

The accident

It was the beginning of September last year, at around 5.30pm. I was out doing some shopping when Lauren, Harry’s girlfriend rang me and said he had been in an accident. It was a call I dreaded and every parent’s nightmare!

I remember asking Lauren if Harry was going to be ok. She said she didn’t know and sounded very distraught. I dropped everything and ran outside. I knew I couldn’t drive, but a very kind lady came to my aid and offered to take me wherever I needed to go.

We drove to Harry’s yard. There were police, ambulances and people everywhere. A lady and young girl approached me, wrapped their arms around me and gave me a hug. Harry had been crushed by a 10-tonne telehandler, which had pinned him against a telegraph pole. He was the other side of the barn and the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance team were attending to him. I was shaking like a leaf and said I didn’t want to see him; Harry was in a critical condition!

Dorset and somerset yellow air ambulance helicopter
Photo Credit: James Penberthy

He had been starved of oxygen for an unknown period of time, which was the most worrying thing. The air ambulance team placed him into an induced coma and he was given a blood transfusion, before airlifting him to the Major Trauma Centre at Southmead Hospital in Bristol.

We were driven to hospital by one of Harry’s colleagues. The hour and a half journey felt like a lifetime; we sat in silence the whole way.

The injuries

harry in hospital

Harry sustained 10 broken ribs, a broken sternum and bruised lungs; the next five days were an emotional rollercoaster. On the second day in hospital, Harry’s lung collapsed. We were told that he had a 10% chance of survival – hearing that news, family travelled from all over the country to be with him, as we all thought this was the end. One minute he would show signs of recovery and the next, he’d deteriorate.

The recovery

Eventually after five days in a coma, Harry started responding to us, tried to open his eyes and was successfully brought round. He was very emotional, (as we all were) but he had no idea what had happened to him. He was very confused and his memory was very poor, however thankfully he remembered who we were. After a couple more days in the Intensive Care Unit, Harry was transferred to a general ward where he stayed for another three days. We are very pleased with Harry’s recovery, although he still suffers from some memory loss, but he is here and that is what matters.

Paying thanks

Harry owes his life to many people. His girlfriend Lauren, his friend Kristine, Lewis who reversed the telehandler off him, the utterly brilliant crew of Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance and to those who provided amazing care at Southmead Hospital.

We are forever indebted to Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, not only the team that were there for Harry that day, but also for Kirsty Caswell and the patient and family liaison team, who gave us so much support in the days after Harry’s accident. It was super special when we had the opportunity to come back and meet everyone at Henstridge, especially as the crew really did not expect him to recover so well. Thank you so very much.

VIEW FROM THE CREW: Jo Hernandez, Specialist Practitioner in Critical Care

As Rosanne has shared, Lauren (Harry’s girlfriend) found him on the day of his incident and bravely performed CPR as he was unconscious and not breathing. When our critical care team arrived, Harry was deeply unconscious, but had begun breathing for himself. His oxygen levels were very low and he had very obvious injuries to his chest.

We administered two units of plasma to optimise Harry’s circulation before intubating him (putting a breathing tube into his trachea) and used specific types of ventilation to try and re-establish a good level of oxygen, because his lungs had been crushed for such a long period of time. (Plasma is one of the blood products that is carried on Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, which not only helps to re-fill a patient’s blood vessels after significant blood loss, but crucially helps the body to form clots at the injury site to stop bleeding).

While treating and assessing Harry, the team found that his pupils were very dilated and not reacting to light, which is a sign that the brain has been impacted. Essentially, Harry’s brain was not getting any oxygen – he was extremely sick and it was very possible that he might not survive.

During Harry’s flight to Southmead Hospital, he continued receiving ventilation strategies to maximise his oxygenation and his pupils began reacting to light, which they had not done before. This was a positive sign that oxygen was slowly getting to his brain.

In hospital, scans on Harry’s brain did not show anything significant, so it was a case of optimising his breathing with his significant chest injuries, so that he could come off the ventilator. Then it was a case of waking Harry up and seeing how well he did. Harry did wake up pretty well, although at first he was a little confused and initially had poor memory. However, everything seemed to go well, so he was placed on a ward in the hospital and then subsequently discharged home.

The after-care and support provided by Kirsty Caswell, one of DSAA’s patient and family liaison nurses was a great help to Harry and his family. Kirsty initially made contact while Harry was in hospital on the ward and struggling with pain relief and gave some initial emotional support. When Harry went home, Kirsty arranged to go and visit; the family were very keen to see her and ask questions about the pre-hospital experience.

Harry in dorset and somerset air ambulance helicopter aircraft

It was clear the incident had a profound impact on Lauren, who had to perform CPR on her partner and was still in shock in the aftermath of the event. Similarly for Rosanne, who as a mum, was anxious about the fact that her son had been through such a traumatic event and been close to losing his life, yet had woken up so well and was ready to get back to his normal day-to-day busy lifestyle. For Harry, it appeared he was struggling somewhat to understand the gravity of what his family had experienced, as he had no memory of any of it and felt ready to get back to work! Together, they discussed the psychological impact on everyone involved in an event like this, having to do CPR on a loved one and then bear witness to their intensive care journey.

Then came the time, when the family were keen to come back and meet the team who were involved with caring for Harry that day. The visit took place very soon after the incident, which proved extremely helpful as the crew were able to talk to Harry about the significance of how close to death he was, while seeing for themselves how well he was doing, within a couple of weeks after they treated him. It was a great visit and example of why the team do what they do and why time-critical work, is time-critical. If Harry’s brain had not been re-oxygenated, literally within minutes, things would have been very different.

This is a story of a very special case, with a great result and an amazing recovery!

The Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance team that attended Harry’s incident were: Phil Hyde, Pete Appleby, Kev Rutherford and Jack Cook. Also in attendance from the ambulance service were: Ashley Smith, Ross Drinkell, Mark Evans and Tim Taylor.

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NEXT: James' Story