Oliver McParland (64), originally from Belfast and local resident of Ballycastle shares his experience of needing the air ambulance Helicopter Emergency Medical Service, following a fall of 15 feet last summer whilst painting.

“I was painting a bit of fence outside at height, just touching up on the colour to refresh it. I was working away, pleased with how it was going and thinking that I might go and visit my new-born grandson that night, Zane. As I was coming to the finish of the job and on the ladder about 15 feet high I felt the ladder tilt to the right.  It dawned on me then I had forgotten to stabilize the ladder at the bottom and last thing I recall was trying to straighten it back up, then everything went black.

I was told my fall was headfirst, broken by an iron bar on the way down.  My consultant informed me that my head struck the ground and would have bounced ‘a bit like a ball’.

A member of the public, Lucy, called 999 and the HEMS team arrived quite quickly once that call had been made.   Lucy also made enquiries so she could alert my family, she was able to reach family friend, Claire, who drove to my daughters house to let her know about the accident.

The medical team provided Critical Care on scene including a medically induced coma. This is normally only provided in hospital.  I was then flown to the Royal Victoria Hospital to the Intensive Care Unit and was in a coma for 24 days.

It was a very traumatic time for my whole family – first the initial shock of the accident, then me being in a coma and requiring surgery.  My wife, Pauline went into a mini shock initially trying to get to grips with it all emotionally.  During the constant trips to and from the hospital she covered 800 miles in two months.  Then our family was dealt a devastating blow when little Zane, my newly born grandson, died from cot death at just 4 weeks.  The family held off telling me initially fearing I may not be emotionally strong enough to deal with it. It’s been a hard journey of grief trying to come to terms with Zane being taken.”

Oliver’s fall was caused by an underlying medical condition that he was unaware of, a clot on his right lung and also one on his leg.  It was the clot on his lung had caused him to black out, it could have happened at any stage and may have killed him instantly.  The surgeons at Royal Victoria Hospital removed this when he was in a coma by inserting a rubber tube into Oliver’s neck which was then pushed into his lung to remove the clot with a miniature ‘umbrella’ shaped instrument. 

When he finally regained consciousness one month later Oliver had lost his memory.  He didn’t know who any of his family were and it took close to 10 days before his memory sprung back, during rehabilitation at Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast.

Oliver explains, “At the time I was practicing walking and the nurse said an address out loud. It triggered something and I automatically asked who lived there only to be told it was me! For the next half hour my brain was like a computer rebooting, everything came flooding back.  I started remembering who I was, that I was married to Pauline, that I had three children.  It was such a strange experience; the brain is a remarkable thing.  It felt like a machine kick starting.  All of this would have been so much worse if I was unable to walk, talk or remember things.

Everyone in the medical teams throughout have been brilliant and I’ve been very determined in my recovery.  My nickname in hospital was the ‘miracle man’ as they couldn’t understand how fast I had progressed, particularly being in my sixties.”

One of the most remarkable discoveries for Oliver following his accident was that he still had his artistic talents. As a talented artist Oliver specializes in murals and portraits having painted many famous faces as well as commissioned private pieces.

Oliver said, “After a couple of weeks of being at home I wanted to try and paint.  I was apprehensive as my right arm wouldn’t stop shaking.  But I had a go at a portrait.  I had to use my left hand to hold my right arm from shaking.  I was overwhelmed that I was still able to do it, and whilst I don’t expect to be climbing any scaffolding to do murals any time soon, my art has been such a therapy and helped me through this.

I am still in recovery and have had to readjust my expectations of myself, but I am blessed and owe my life to the medical team who came in the air ambulance.  The speed at which they attend incidents and the care provided at scene is simply incredible. I understand the induced coma the air ambulance team provided was crucial, otherwise things were really against me.  I will be eternally grateful to everyone whose help that day meant I survived and intend to enjoy life to the full.  Recently I was given a real lift with the birth of our 7th grandchild being born, Shea, it’s wonderful for the whole family.

The Helicopter Emergency Medical Service for Northern Ireland is provided by a partnership between the charity Air Ambulance Northern Ireland, and Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.  The service brings urgent medical assistance to anywhere in the province, operating seven days a week for 12 hours per day. It can get to anywhere in Northern Ireland in approximately twenty-five minutes and is needed on average twice per day. The combination of advanced care on scene and rapid transport to hospital by helicopter, when appropriate, ensures critically ill or injured patients are given the best chance of survival and recovery. This was certainly the case with Oliver.

The charity cherishes connecting with former patients and patient families. If you, or one of your family members, have been treated by the HEMS Crew please get in touch with Air Ambulance NI by calling 028 9262 2677.

Air Ambulance NI aspires to raise £2million each year to maintain and sustain this service so public donations are crucial. Find out more by visiting www.airambulanceni.org alternatively you can contact the charity directly by emailing info@airambulanceni.org or calling 028 9262 2677.

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