I crashed my car into my friend's house – I don't remember a thing'
When Dick Berry went to visit his GP one morning, he saw there was a queue and, needing to get to work on time, quickly left the surgery.
After initially retiring as a policeman, Dick realised the ‘quiet life’ wasn’t for him, and went back into work as a seafront and events team supervisor in the coastal town of Weston Super Mare.
The 59-year-old was usually active and in great shape. In fact he’d received a clean bill of health at a check-up just a few days earlier.
But after leaving the surgery that day in February 2013, Dick’s life changed. He has no recollection of the terrifying accident that followed, or the cardiac arrest that wiped his memory and nearly cost him his life.
‘I was not expected to make it through the night,’ he says.
Despite the events of the day being a blur, Dick has been able to piece together what happened from other people. He explains: ‘I left [the surgery] because I was expected at work and would have had staff waiting for me.’
He made it to his van, but barely managed to drive down the road before crashing into the wall of a house next door to the GP.
Thankfully he knew the resident of the property, who raised the alarm and called doctors out to help him.
At this point Dick was unconscious, so medics had to think on their feet to workout the cause of the collision and stabilise his condition.
Doctor Simone Tucker, who had rushed out from the surgery, recognised the symptoms of cardiac arrest, using a defibrillator and performing CPR to restart his heart.
Staff from the Great Western Air Ambulance Charity (GWAAC) then attended the scene before intubating Dick and getting him to the specialist heart department at Bristol Royal Infirmary as quickly as possible.
Dick, now 69, credits the first responders for saving his life, as within two hours of arriving at the hospital he’d had a stent fitted.
His journey was far from over, though, and things were so touch-and-go that doctors told Dick’s wife Claire to prepare for the worst.
‘The family lived through many days of uncertainty as my health fluctuated in hospital,’ says Dick, who was placed into an induced coma for five days.
‘I was not expected to make it through the night when I suffered with pneumonia.’
Claire, who received the devastating news that her husband could have brain damage even if he survived, added: ‘This period in the hospital was the hardest time – the family named Dick’s room “The Dark Room” because it was a sad and desperate place for a while.’
Dick was released from hospital eight days after the van crash, taking six months off work to recover at home.
He said: ‘During rehabilitation I walked a lot and attended weekly classes at the local leisure centre. That was provided by the NHS and was really helpful and informative.’
Now, the only lasting effects of Dick’s terrifying ordeal are tinnitus and some short-term memory loss.
‘It’s strange,’ he said of his lapses in memory. ‘I don’t think it’s just me aging gracefully, I really do have trouble sometimes remembering something that I did or said thirty minutes ago.’
Doctors described him as one of the ‘fortunate few’ for bouncing back after the cardiac arrest. He went back to work after his six months off, before retiring for good in 2019.
He credits his recovery with his fit and outdoorsy lifestyle, and has gone on to stay active by joining the Weston Super Mare Lions fundraising club and welcoming five grandchildren to his family.
‘My wife and I have enjoyed travelling and recently spent the winter in New Zealand and Australia which was wonderful,’ added Dick.
Claire still deals with flashbacks from the incident, but the couple both count themselves lucky that ‘all the ducks lined up that day.’
Dick said: ‘From crashing the van to being resuscitated by the doctor, to the help from the air ambulance crew and doctor, to two hours later having the stent fitted recovery in hospital and the after care at home, I could not have had better.’
Dr Leon Roberts, former GWAAC Critical Care Doctor, remembers the case especially well, as Dick was his first patient after he was signed-off for the role.
He recalled: ‘It was a memorable first day; Dick’s incident was followed immediately after with a call-out to another cardiac arrest. It felt like an induction of fire.’
It could have gone very differently without the quick thinking of bystanders and medical staff, though.
‘Dick lucked out with his chain of survival,’ added Dr Leon. ‘On another day, it might not have worked.’
Air Ambulance Week
Air Ambulance Week 2023 takes off across the UK from September 4 – 10, with air ambulance charities across the UK delivering the vital message that Air Ambulance charities can’t save lives without you.
Air ambulance charities collectively make over 37,000 missions each year across the UK, with 37 air ambulance helicopters operated by 21 air ambulance charities providing pre-hospital care support to the NHS and forming an important part of the UK’s frontline emergency services.
These charities receive no day-to-day government funding and depend almost entirely on charitable donations to deliver their lifesaving care.
To show your support for Air Ambulance Week, you can make a one-off donation to Air Ambulances UK on the website, or get in direct contact with your local air ambulance charity.
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