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Harry hands soldier's medal to medics who saved her and says 'huge thank you'

Published 01/06/2016

Prince Harry has praised the UK hospital team that saved the life of a US Army medic, telling the NHS workers a "huge, huge thank you to all of you".

The 31-year-old presented the Papworth Hospital group with an Invictus Games gold medal entrusted to him by Sergeant Elizabeth Marks who wanted her award to be donated to the medical staff who treated her when she was gravely ill two years ago.

The combat medic was due to compete in the 2014 Invictus Games, for injured service personnel and veterans, when she collapsed and was discovered to have a serious problem with her lungs.

She was diagnosed with respiratory distress syndrome and a medical team from Papworth treated her with an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) life-support machine - a system which "breathes" for the patient while they are treated with drugs.

Among the group invited to the presentation ceremony at Kensington Palace were lead ECMO clinician Dr Alain Vuylsteke, lead ECMO nurse Jo-anne Fowles, senior staff nurse Laura Bowden and s enior clinical perfusion scientist Giordano Paiella.

The Prince was joined at the event by the Duchess of Gloucester, who is Papworth's royal patron. Harry told her Sgt Marks was "over the moon - she's very excited about the handover process".

When the medical team arrived, Harry asked them: "Am I right in saying she was given about a 35% chance of living?"

Dr Vuylsteke replied "That's generous", adding: "We used a machine to support her and keep her alive, while antibiotics and other drugs were helping her to fight it."

The Prince said the 25-year-old soldier broke down in tears as she told him about her treatment, when they met during the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida, last month.

Harry went on: "Something else that she told me while we were in Florida - I don't know whether you'll agree to it or not - she said that it was a blessing in disguise landing in London and going to Papworth because Papworth is undoubtedly the best place for someone having this condition.

"That's very kind of her," replied Dr Vuylsteke, who said: "We've got the best system in place to support this kind of problem. What's quite amazing is in England we've set up a system a few years ago that offers that (treatment) to anybody. I'm not sure that she would have received the same services anywhere else (in the world).

"So, in her bad luck, she was very lucky."

During the presentation ceremony, Harry played a short video of Sgt Marks competing at the Games in Orlando where she won four gold medals in the pool - and dedicated her 100m freestyle medal to the Papworth team after she received it from the Prince.

Harry said: "From all of us, it's just a huge, huge thank you to all of you."

Sgt Marks, from Arizona, who joined the US Army at the age of 17, suffered a serious hip injury in 2010 while on tour in Iraq, which left her with no sensation in her left leg. But she battled back to fitness and still serves in the military.

She has used sport to help her recovery and continues to swim despite it rendering her temporarily blind and faint due to her lung condition.

A Papworth spokesman said they were hoping to launch an Elizabeth Marks Fund to help finance the development of equipment and support patients treated at the Cambridgeshire hospital's critical care unit where the medal will go on display.

Ms Fowles, who helped treat Sgt Marks, said: "I can remember her coming in because she was brought in on ECMO by one of our team and remained on ECMO for nine days and stayed with us for two or three days after, before she was taken to Germany to one of the US hospitals for recovery.

"She was asleep the whole time she was on ECMO and very, very ill and we all remember her because of the Invictus Games and the publicity around the Games ... so to have a world-class athlete who was obviously very sick made an impact on all of us."

Professor John Wallwork, chairman of Papworth Hospital which specialises in lung and heart care, said of Sgt Marks's medal: "It means an awful for the staff and the people that looked after her.

"We do a lot of very good work at Papworth, a lot we know about and a lot the public doesn't know about, and I think it just emphasises how good the hospital is and we're very proud of it.

"I think coming here and getting this medal and having an audience with Prince Harry has been exceptionally good for us."

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