Cambs farmer ‘lucky to be alive’ after being impaled by forklift

Farmer Jonathan Willis dodged death by a matter of mere millimetres when he became accidentally impaled on a forklift tine. The 42-year-old was working on his farm near Wisbech on October 26 last year when he was unloading some straw bales from his forklift truck. When he was untying some of the straps from his trailer, stood between it and the forklift, the truck rolled forward and Jonathan became impaled on of the tines.

:Lorry driver dies after crash on the A1M He quickly raised the alarm and wife Wendy dialled 999. Seven minutes after Wendy made the call, the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) was sent from Cambridge to provide enhanced pre-hospital medicine at the scene.

It arrived just 25 minutes after Wendy made the call. The EAAA team worked with the ambulance, police and fire and rescue teams to assess Jonathan’s injuries and coordinate the complex process to try and get Jonathan safely to hospital for life-saving surgery. The forklift entered through Jonathan’s lower back and exited through his abdomen, posing a risk to several major internal organs and blood vessels, meaning it was a time-critical and life-threatening situation.

The tine then had to be cut free from the forklift with an angle grinder, while medics had to make sure Jonathan remained as still as possible to avoid a catastrophic bleeding, and gave him ketamine for the pain. Once free, and with the tine still in place, he had to be transported to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, accompanied by EAAA doctors James Hale and Nathan Howes and critical care paramedic Andy Bates, for emergency surgery. Dr Howes said: “I have worked for East Anglian Air Ambulance since 2015, and frequently attend incidents involving trapped patients, but I had never been to an incident quite like this, or met a patient quite like Jonathan.

“It was incredibly important that any movement of Jonathan or the tine was minimised, in case it worsened any internal bleeding, but we also needed to free him quickly. “The advanced pain relief that we carry was still a risk to Jonathan’s tiring legs, having held the same position for an hour. I was so impressed by how stoic Jonathan and his wife, Wendy, were.

This definitely helped while we devised a plan with the Fire and Rescue and Ambulance Services to support Jonathan, cut the tine and release him safely. “Fortunately, the careful release and Jonathan’s vital signs meant that we could take him directly to my colleagues at Cambridge Major Trauma Centre. And I’ll never forget the sense of humour he maintained until we reached the operating theatre.

“It felt like treating a friend. I have been amazed by his survival and recovery, and I am so grateful to Jonathan and Wendy for visiting us, a year later. These stories sustain us and help keep us ready for the next call.”

Emmanuel Huguet with the forklift tine after it was removed from Jonathan.

Surgeons at Addenbrooke’s Hospital worked through the night operating on Jonathan for almost seven hours.

And, just two weeks later, Jonathan was cleared to return home, although it took five months for his wounds to heal properly. He was at an increased risk of infection due to the tine being a well-used piece of agricultural machinery that had punctured his bowels.

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Specialty Lead for the Major Trauma Service at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Emmanuel Huguet, recalls his experience leading the complex surgery. He said: “It seemed near impossible for someone to have survived such injuries as that area of the abdomen is full of overlapping tightly-packed-together organs and very major blood vessels. “In order to carry out this highly complex surgery, there were approximately 30 people in the operating theatre at one point, including colleagues who held the spike in place from underneath before we were sure it was safe to remove.

“Mr Willis’ incredible recovery is down to his amazing composure and courage throughout this ordeal and the amazing team work I witnessed that night at Addenbrooke’s.”

Cambs farmer 'lucky to be alive' after being impaled by forkliftWendy and Jonathan Willis with paramedic Andy Bates and Doctor Nathan Howes.

A year on from the accident and the Willis family raised GBP33,000 at a charity ball in aid of the air ambulance. Jonathan said: “What happened to me was just such an unusual accident and I’m just so, so thankful that there were so many expert teams available to help me get through it. “Otherwise, I’m sure the outcome could have been very different.

I will be eternally grateful to everyone involved in saving my life.” Wendy added: “We know that without the enhanced skills of the air ambulance team that day Jonathan wouldn’t have made it to hospital. “They took control of the situation – which was like living my worst nightmare – and made all the right decisions which got him to the right hospital and to the right surgeon with a fighting chance”

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