Air Ambulance saves Portaferry girl’s life

Air Ambulance saves Portaferry girl’s life

9 September 2020

FIVE minutes meant life or death to Portaferry schoolgirl Ellie McDonnell last year when she was seriously injured in a road accident close to her home.

Her family was told by doctors at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast that she would not have survived a further five minutes without the air ambulance being deployed.

This week the 16 year-old is supporting National Air Ambulance Week to highlight the fact that  every second counts when a life is in the balance and life-saving medical care is needed.

The charity Air Ambulance NI, in partnership with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, provides the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) for Northern Ireland. 

Another teenager, 14 year-old Declan Keating from Kircubbin, was also saved by the HEMS team in May when a tractor he was driving rolled over him after he fell out.

Dr Darren Monaghan, Clinical Lead for the HEMS, explained: “When a life is in the balance, every second counts. When a call comes in we are airborne in approximately five minutes. On board the helicopter is a consultant doctor and HEMS paramedic and together they provide hospital level emergency care at the roadside.  

“We are very much part of a wider care team, the first response in the trauma network which can make the difference for a seriously ill or dying patient.  After our initial interventions are provided, about 65% of our patients are then transferred to the major trauma centre, the Royal Victoria Hospital.”

Ellie, a Down High School student, was put under an induced coma by HEMS team last summer after her quad bike collided with a car which tragically was driven by her mother on she journeyed home.

Her family feared that she may never be able to walk or talk but today the talented young showjumper is back at school and riding horses again after a remarkable recovery.

The day started off as a happy one for the family, who run a dairy farm, as Ellie had just heard she had been chosen to represent team Northern Ireland at a show jumping competition in Wales

Thankfully,  the teen does not remember the accident or much about that day. She continues her recovery with more surgery planned ahead. 

Ellie told the Recorder: “I don’t remember much about that day. All I know is that the air ambulance saved my life and without them I wouldn’t be sitting here today. I would just like to thank Air Ambulance NI for all that they have done for me.”

According to the ambulance service, when an accident occurs, a 999-call is connected to the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service control room team who answer approximately 600 calls per day.  Alongside this key ambulance service team is one of the HEMS paramedics.  

They decide whether the air ambulance team should be dispatched, dependent on the clinical nature of a patient’s injuries. The decision can be made using agreed automated dispatch criteria or by interrogation — which means the paramedic will speak with the 999 callers to assess further information.  

Once the very quick decision is made that the incident needs the air ambulance team, the paramedic has radio contact to declare this as a ‘HEMS call’.  

At that point the air ambulance operational crew will get ready for dispatch: using latitudes and longitudes to determine patient location, packing up their medical kit bags, helmets on, helicopter started and necessary safety checks underway before take-off. Every second counts to ensure speedy lift off to reach the patient in optimum time.

The helicopter travels at approximately 150mph which means the team arrive with the patient in a matter of minutes — even the furthest locations can be reached in approximately 25 minutes. Once the team have safely landed, they can provide critical care interventions that otherwise would be done when the patient reaches.

These include advanced analgesia, definitive airway management, chest interventions to support breathing and being able to induce a coma.  

Dr Monaghan explained: “Our team are continually working to optimise every second for our patients — daily training for excellent care at scene, standardised medical kit bags for instant access to medical equipment and drugs and a mental state of readiness for that incoming call. We continually strive for gains, however marginal, in everything we do.”

Kerry Anderson, Head of Fundraising with Air Ambulance NI said that a virtual bucket collection at had been set up.

She said: “Please donate what you can. Alternatively, there is also the opportunity for people to join the charity by becoming a member of Club AANI. Regular donations help to sustain the service and enable us to plan for the future. 

“For a weekly donation of just £2, Club AANI members will receive exclusive benefits such as a gold pin badge, a car sticker and an invitation to our annual members event at our base. It’s a simple way to donate and we hope those who can join will do so.”