On 2nd June 2015 17-year-old Leah Washington, her boyfriend Joe Pugh, and friends, Vicky Balch and Daniel Thorpe made international news. Sadly it was because they were seriously injured in a rollercoaster crash at a local theme park. Leah, now 23, tells her story.
Like everyone who ends up relying on the advanced pre-hospital care of Midlands Air Ambulance Charity, Leah started her day entirely unaware of how it would unfold. She and boyfriend, Joe travelled from Barnsley to the theme park for a fun day out.
While on the Smiler rollercoaster, the group of four were seated at the front of the carriage, which crashed into a stationary one that had got stuck on the track. All 16 passengers were injured, the four at the front seriously and the force of the crash meant Leah and Vicky were left with life-threatening injuries and a four-hour ordeal to free them from the ride.
Due to the severity of the crash, it was deemed a major incident by emergency services, which included the Fire Service, West Midlands Ambulance Service and four air ambulances, including two Midlands Air Ambulance Charity helicopters.
Before even getting to the time critical patients, the aircrew had to carefully climb up to the carriage. At 25ft up and at a 45-degree angle, the team were acutely aware of the critical nature of what they faced.
The impact meant Leah was in severe pain and required advanced medicines for pain relief and anaesthesia, which could only be administered by the flight doctor and critical care paramedic on-board the air ambulance. The impact severed the main artery in her leg and required tourniquets and a blood transfusion on scene before she could even be released from the ride. The blood was rapidly brought by one of Midlands Air Ambulance Charity’s helicopters from the nearest major trauma centre.
After four agonising hours in the advanced care of the crew, Leah was safely released from the ride and rapidly flown to Royal Stoke Hospital.
On arrival, she was taken straight into theatre and underwent a partial amputation of her left leg before being put into an induced coma. She had also suffered a deep cut to her right knee, fractured her left hand, which resulted in having no function for a month, and several cuts and bruises. After three operations and eight weeks of recovery and physical rehabilitation, Leah was strong enough to return home.
Leah states: “To be honest, at the time, I had no idea the air ambulance had even been called. Now, Midlands Air Ambulance Charity will always have a place in my heart. They saved my life, the whole team that day, did an amazing job and I will never be able to thank them enough. It is a fabulous charity and they were there in my greatest hour of need.”