Wiltshire Air Ambulance

“I feel lucky to be alive”

Stuart Hershbein, 37 from Wiltshire, tells how Wiltshire Air Ambulance saved his life

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The summer of 2012 was one I’d been looking forward to, due to the fact that London
was hosting the Olympic Games. However, by the time summer came around I was suffering from intense daily headaches that were almost unbearable and left me unable to focus on anything else. Although I tried to get on with my life and enjoy the Olympics as best as I could, I was beginning to realise that something was seriously wrong.

I first began to suffer from regular headaches in 2010, accompanied by a stiff neck and muscular problems all the way across my shoulders. As a young, fit and active PE teacher my health had never really been something I had to worry about, so at that point I didn’t give it much thought.

I visited my GP after a few months, to see if there was anything they could prescribe
to stop the pain and stiffness, and was told it was most likely to be muscular – due to my occupation and active lifestyle – and I should visit an osteopath to have regular acupuncture and massages to ease the discomfort, which I did.

After seeing the osteopath, I felt a bit better for a few months, but after a short while
the headaches started to come back more frequently and by 2012 the pain was awful. There was extreme pain shooting up the back of my neck and it felt like my head was in a vice. I went back to my GP, who told me it was just stress – despite the fact I was at the start of the summer holidays, which is probably the least stressful time for a teacher.

By September 2012 I was feeling really unwell. On 2 September, the evening before I was due to go back to work, the pain was unbearable, so I took myself to A&E, where I was prescribed some painkillers. I then had to phone in to work sick for the first time ever. I booked in to see a doctor on the Thursday and my mum had to come round and take me, as the pain was bad that I could hardly walk at this point. However, the doctor still insisted there was no point in sending me for a scan. He prescribed me diazepam – which is a muscle-relaxing drug often used to eas symptoms of anxiety – and I returned home.

That evening, I was in so much pain I asked my then-fiancé, Cherrie, to phone for an ambulance. Shortly after, I got up from the sofa to try to speak to her and collapsed. Luckily, the ambulance arrived in minutes and the paramedics got me on a spinal board as I drifted in and out of consciousness. Cherrie later told me I had signs of a stroke, as my face had dropped and I was paralysed down one side.

The paramedics realised I needed to be seen quickly so immediately called for Wiltshire Air Ambulance, who arrived at the nearest landing site within six minutes – despite the awful weather and thick fog that was setting in. They then transported me to Bristol Frenchay Hospital – the nearest trauma centre, which is an hour and 15 minutes away by land – in just ten minutes.

As soon as I arrived at the hospital I was whisked through for a scan, where it was discovered I was suffering from hydrocephalus, which is fluid on the brain. Basically, my brain was being crushed from the inside out. I then went into respiratory arrest, so the doctors had to revive me and put a tube into my brain to drain away the fluid.

A few days later I was given an operation called an endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV), where an incision is made in the third ventricle of the brain so the fluid can flow through. It’s a really dangerous operation because if they touch anything on either side it could be life threatening, but thankfully it was successful.

I was discharged from the hospital that Friday, although I was still unable to walk
and was stumbling everywhere, and my vision and short-term memory were really bad. I couldn’t even make a cup of tea on my own and couldn’t focus on the TV. It took about a month to get my vision back fully and I was off work for four months after that. I am still trying to get back to where I was in terms of fitness, even after four years.

I have been told that the doctors don’t know what caused the hydrocephalus and I could have had it since birth. It is something that can’t be cured – I will have it for the rest of my life so this could happen again in the future if the fluid builds up again. However, I try not to dwell on this and just get on with my life while being aware of the symptoms to look out for.

I’ve signed up to do the Bath Half Marathon to raise funds for Wiltshire Air Ambulance and have started volunteering for them as a spokesperson at fetes and stalls, where I share my experience with others. I married Cherrie in 2014 and we now have two daughters – Pixie, three, and Harmony, who will be one in April – which has been amazing. I feel so lucky to be alive and know that without Wiltshire Air Ambulance this probably wouldn’t be the case.

The charity offers such a valuable service to the people of Wiltshire. As it’s such a vast county many people wouldn’t be able to get to a trauma unit within the ‘golden hour’ without it – which is essential if you’re suffering from cardio or neuro problems. They can fly anywhere within the county within 11 minutes, which is vital to saving lives. I am living proof of why its work is so essential.

TOTAL RAISED: £21,601

THE FACTS – Wiltshire Air Ambulance

  • Wiltshire Air Ambulance Charitable Trust (WAA) provides a helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) in Wiltshire and neighbouring counties.
  • WAA is available up to 19 hours a day, 365 days a year. It flies, on average, 2-3 potentially life-saving missions a day.
  • It costs the charity £3.25m a year to keep the air ambulance operational, which is £8,904 a day.
  • The charity plans to build a new home to bring its aircrew and charity team on to one site in a central location at Outmarsh Farm, Semington, near Melksham.
  • Visit wiltshireairambulance.co.uk.

BIG GIVE UPDATE

Wiltshire Air Ambulance will use the money raised in The Candis Big Give to equip a Flight Room at its new airbase for the coordination of its missions and care and safety of its patients. This room is where the aircrew plan operational activities – the key to safe, effective operation of the helicopter.

 

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