It was a reunion that Grace Gardiner’s family had hoped would always happen. Twelve years after the crew of the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) saved her life, the Penrith schoolgirl finally got the chance to meet them at their base and say hello again to the man she calls “her hero”.
Grace was only four-months-old when she started vomiting severely while at home with her mother Helen Gardiner on 27 February 2007.
Mrs Gardiner was advised by her local GP to take Grace to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, however after driving her there, Grace’s health became progressively worse.
Mrs Gardiner said: “They said there was something wrong with her intestines, and they had to put her on life support. We were told that she would need emergency surgery and they didn’t have the facilities and she would need to go to Newcastle.”
Unfortunately, there were no viable options available to transfer Grace due to how critically ill she was, but in a moment of serendipity, the team from GNAAS were at the same hospital, so they offered to airlift her.
Paramedic Lee Salmon, also of Penrith, was on duty that day. He said the crew anaesthetised her before flying her to hospital in Newcastle.
“She managed to get there after several complications en route,” he added.
“It pushed us to our clinical limits and her to her limitations of life. Grace is almost the same age as my own daughter Lily, so it was hugely emotional for me when, after the complications, I went and explained all that had gone on to the parents and grandparents.”
It transpired that Grace had a Meckel’s diverticulum with intussusception which is a blockage in her bowel, and she had to be resuscitated twice during surgery at the Royal Victoria Infirmary.
Mrs Gardiner said: “She was prepped for surgery instantly and we just had to say goodbye and hope for the best.
“She had an inch of her intestine removed after it had turned gangrene which caused her body to have multiple organ failure. She was touch and go the first few days and spent a week in intensive care and a week in the baby ward before coming home.
“If it hadn’t have been for the air ambulance, she just wouldn’t be here because nobody else could take her and she would never have survived the journey without them. We owe everything to the air ambulance.”
Grace has since made a full recovery. Her family have kept in touch with Mr Salmon over the years and he even received a card with a donation from Grace a few days after completing the Great North Run for GNAAS last year. At the recent visit to the charity’s Langwathby base, the family were able to thank him and his colleagues again in person.
Mrs Gardiner said: “Lee’s daughter is only nine days younger than Grace, so I think it just had a really big impact on him as well because of that. Every time we see him since he’s just a hero – an absolute hero.”
Last year GNAAS was called out 1062 times and needed to raise £5.1m. To find out how you can help, please visit www.gnaas.com or call 01768-899150.