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Air Ambulance saved son's life says Northern Ireland mum in appeal to help service

Fermanagh mum Tracey Ashton tells Stephanie Bell she believes that the use of the flying medical service helped save her son's life and is now calling on people to support a big fund raising event later this month

Tracey and Drew Ashton
Tracey and Drew Ashton
Drew recovering in hospital
Drew Ashton (second left) with the NI Air Ambulance crew

By Stephanie Bell

Lisnaskea mum Tracey Ashton will never forget the feeling of horror she felt as she realised her teenage son had been hit by a car after getting off the school bus. The accident happened in May as 15-year-old Drew was crossing the road to his mum who was waiting for him in her car just feet away.

The collision sent Drew hurtling 25ft in the air and he landed on his school backpack. His injuries were horrible. He suffered a fractured skull, a fractured hand and a swollen knee.

As an ambulance scrambled to reach the remote country road outside their home in Rosslea, it became apparent that Drew's injuries were so severe that the air ambulance was needed.

Today, three months later, with her son fully recovered, Tracey (46), who works in administration for the charity Praxis Care, says she has no doubt that the air ambulance made all the difference to Drew's chances of survival.

And to show her gratitude for saving her son's life she plans to support a huge upcoming charity event to raise funds for the service.

Tracey spent an agonising 25 minutes on the roadside with Drew administering first aid before help arrived.

Recalling what happened, she says: "Drew goes to school in Enniskillen and gets the bus to Lisnaskea where he then gets a bus most days home and walks down the lane to our house from the bus stop.

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"I am home from work early on Fridays so I always pick him up from the bus stop on Fridays.

"I also always park facing the bus stop but for some reason that day I had my back to it. I saw Drew getting off the bus in my mirror and then I couldn't see him but a Jeep had stopped and I just knew immediately he had been hit.

"When I ran over, he was unconscious on the ground and gasping for breath. I brought him round and he was in shock and was trying to get up. I just tried to keep him still and calm. I am trained in first aid and I just went into overdrive. I don't know to this day how I did it.

"I put all my feelings as a mother aside so that I could focus on helping him.

"A lot of people had gathered and I just kept talking to Drew and trying to keep him calm. They decided because Drew had a head injury that the air ambulance should come out."

As soon as the air ambulance arrived at the scene, the doctor on board decided that for his safety, Drew needed to be put into an induced coma, a traumatic experience for his mum.

"That was so difficult to watch that I had to walk away and leave them to it," she says. "It was terrible."

It was also decided because of the serious nature of his injuries that he should be flown direct to the Royal Victoria Hospital - an hour and a half's drive by car.

Time was critical for the injured teen and his frantic mum was relieved that he was being taken to hospital by air while she jumped in her car to drive direct to the Royal.

She says: "It wasn't possible for me to go in the ambulance with him and I just got in the car and headed straight up the road.

"I think I just shut down my emotions at that point to try and get through it otherwise I would have broken down, and I was calm driving up to Belfast.

"Thanks to the air ambulance, by the time I got to the hospital Drew had already been scanned. He got there an hour before me.

"The doctor told me he had a fractured skull and a bone in his hand was broken. They said there was no evidence of brain damage which was such a relief to hear."

Drew was kept in an induced coma overnight in the intensive care unit. When he was brought back to consciousness the next day his mum was relieved to see him chatting like normal.

He spent a few days in hospital before being allowed home to continue his recovery. A review appointment just last week saw him completely discharged from their care.

His mum is grateful at his recovery and how well he has coped with the trauma. "He had a little bit of blurred vision at the start but nothing now," she says, adding: "Everything has healed and his body has recovered.

"We believe because he landed on his backpack it protected his spine - things could have been worse if he hadn't been wearing it as he landed on his back.

"Drew is the best; he is very jovial, just like he always is. He just wants to put it behind him. He doesn't remember anything from being in school that afternoon which is a blessing.

"I think because I was witness to it, it has hit me hard, but I try to put it out of my mind.

"I feel so lucky that the air ambulance was there and I couldn't praise them enough. I think had they not been there and Drew had to be taken to hospital by road it could have been a very different story."

The Dernawilt Road where Drew was knocked down is a winding rural road, but because it links Monaghan with Lisnaskea it has always experienced heavy traffic.

Since the accident on May 3, Tracey no longer allows Drew to get the bus home from Lisnaskea.

Drew, a pupil of St Michael's College in Enniskillen, now gets the bus to Lisnaskea where he now waits until his mum is finished work and can drive him home.

Tracey says: "We get so many lorries and cars that fly up that road and it is very dangerous.

"I believe that everyone should stop when they see children getting off a school bus. Luckily the elderly couple who hit Drew were not going very fast.

"I am too nervous now to let him get the bus so he now gets off in Lisnaskea and comes to my work and waits until I finish. I couldn't face letting him get off at that lane anymore."

Tracey is asking others to join her in supporting the charity, Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (AANI), as part of the organisation's upcoming 3 Peaks Challenge this month for Air Ambulance Month.

The event, sponsored by Boost, will see supporters take on one, two or three of Northern Ireland's most famous mountains in aid of the charity.

The event kicks off with Slieve Donard on Saturday, September 14, Cuilcagh on Saturday, September 21 and Slemish on Saturday, September 28.

Both Drew and Tracey plan to climb Cuilcagh.

Tracey and her family are also official ambassadors of the event and have already raised £1,500 through an online donation page and collections in their local area.

"I just think it's fantastic what the air ambulance team did for Drew," she says.

"For me it could have been a very different situation if we didn't have the doctor at the scene who came with the air ambulance. I'm raising money for Air Ambulance NI because it's an essential service for people like me who live far from a local hospital.

"The service brought a doctor right to the scene of Drew's accident and got him to the appropriate hospital as soon as possible for more treatment."

Drew was treated by Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) clinical lead Dr Darren Monaghan, paramedic Emma Boylan and pilot Dave O'Toole.

Dr Monaghan said: "I'm so glad Drew is doing well after his traumatic accident and we would like to thank Tracey and her family for their amazing fundraising efforts so far.

"Being able to get the HEMS team to Drew within 25 minutes to deliver a pre-hospital anaesthetic, to support Drew's injuries epitomises why the air ambulance is needed."

The charity is calling on people across Northern Ireland to take part in its 3 Peaks Challenge to raise money for this vital service.

You can do all three peaks or just one or two.

Dr Monaghan adds: "Supporters like Tracey are essential to funding AANI as it takes £2m each year to keep the air ambulance running.

"I encourage everyone to sign up for the 3 Peaks Challenge and raise the funds we need to help us help people like Drew."

The charity, AANI, in partnership with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), provides the HEMS for the region and responds to seriously ill or injured patients 12 hours a day, seven days a week. To sign up for one, two or three of the peaks for the 3 Peaks Challenge, please visit https://www.airambulanceni.org/ or tel 028 9262 2677. Participants will receive a T-shirt, medal and goodie bag

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