It was just over two years ago, May 2021 when Heather, from outside Magherafelt, arrived home from work, planning to take her 12-year-old collie for a walk. She had no idea how her afternoon was to unfold and how lifechanging it would be.
Heather explains; “I was about to take my dog, Trigger, for a walk and was at the patio area at the back of our house when suddenly he jumped into an adjoining field which had eighteen beef cattle grazing. It was very out of character for him, and I stood helplessly watching as the cattle began to circle Trigger and then one head butted him into the sheugh at the side of the field. My instant reaction was to rescue Trigger as he was old and couldn’t see very well. I immediately left my house without any keys or even my mobile phone and walked around the corner and climbed over the gate into the field.”
“I went in, not thinking that I was in any danger as I’d grown up on a farm and had experience of cattle. I got to Trigger, bent down and put my hand out to him. I had his collar in my hand and the next thing I remember was feeling a thump on my back. I hadn’t realised that the cattle had come up behind me and were now encircling me!”
“That was the start of the horrific attack! I was pushed to the side and fell whilst the animals went around in a circle trampling me. It was terrifying and I called out for help, but no one was there to hear. It’s hard to know how long this went on for. At one stage the animals stopped for a brief moment but then started again. I could feel my whole body being trampled, it was so frightening, and I thought that I might die that day.”
Eventually the animals retreated from Heather and eased back into the field. Time was of the essence for Heather as she needed urgent medical attention, but she had a further challenge ahead of her in getting out of the field. How would she get out and who would rescue her?
Heather goes on, “I knew I had to get myself out, but I was in excruciating pain and couldn’t see very well as my glasses had come off. I couldn’t have climbed over the entrance gate, so I trailed myself along to the side of field where the hedge had an opening. I managed to put my leg over barbed wire to get into the next field and limped along to the corner and sat down.”
“It was a relief that I was out of danger from the animals, but still a further field distance from the road. I was terrified and worried I might lose consciousness and never be found in time as no-one knew I was there. Shouting for help would be no good. I had no option but to get out of the field myself. In agony I pushed myself off the ground and I really didn’t know what I was going to do. The pain was increasing, and I was beginning to feel lightheaded and knew if I passed out it wouldn’t be good. So, I pushed myself up. The silage grass was long, but I limped and trailed myself and kept going. It seemed like a lifetime and at times I almost collapsed to the ground, but I knew I couldn’t stop.”
Eventually reaching the roadside, Heather collapsed onto the grass verge, finally admitting defeat in being able to go any further.
Heather explains, “I couldn’t have walked the journey home or to my parents’ house. My only hope was that a car would pass and stop to help. Thankfully, and by the grace of God the first car that came along was driven by Clare Bates, my second cousin’s wife. I was so glad! Clare got me in the car and could tell I was in a really bad way.”
Clare took Heather to Magherafelt Minor Injuries, where a team, led by Emergency Nurse Practitioner Heather McKeown took charge, closing the waiting area to create a treatment area for the patient. Immediately they realised that Heather’s injuries were so severe that additional medical care was needed, resulting in the arrival of the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS).
Heather said, “I was so glad to see the medical team from the air ambulance, Dr. Alan and Paramedic Caroline. They worked with me in the room to make me comfortable and gave me a blood transfusion there. They explained that it would be a short flight of about 15 minutes to the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast.”
To the amazement of the medical team, Heather hadn’t suffered major trauma to her head and had no internal bleeding. However, she had suffered three fractures to her pelvis, a broken left collar bone, broken right elbow, extensive soft tissue damage to her left leg and a large hematoma on her left thigh, which later required surgery.
Heather adds, “I received excellent medical care in the RVH for eight days and was then transferred to Whiteabbey Orthopaedic Rehabilitation Unit for almost four weeks. This was during Covid 19, so it was a lonely experience, with only two nominated visitors – my son Timothy and sister Sharon. It was both physically and emotionally draining for them and an extremely difficult time for all my family. Again, I am totally indebted to the medical team there for their input into my long, challenging, recovery period. At home, I was supported by the Community Recovery OT and Physio and my basic personal care needs were catered for by the NH&SC team for six months. Due to the infection within the hematoma, I had a further nine day stay in Antrim Area Hospital at the end of June, getting out on the morning of my sister’s wedding on 8th July.”
On reflection of Heather’s experience, she states, “I went from being totally independent to totally dependent on others. I had to learn to wash, dress, walk, cook and drive again. Now two years on, my physical injuries have healed well although I have scars and some pain and discomfort throughout my body depending on my movements and daily life. I have had to accept that my body isn’t the same and I am more careful of myself to accommodate for that. It has also had a psychological impact on my mental health. I have had counselling through Rural Support N.I. which has helped a lot and I have also enjoyed and appreciated my Art and Wellbeing sessions through Inspire Wellbeing. I phased back into work since January of this year with all of this support.”
“I would like to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped me from my accident and throughout my recovery. The HEMS team, hospital medical staff, Diamond branch district nurses, Magherafelt community teams, support agencies and local pharmacist. Personally, I would like to mention Clare, my son Timothy, my family, friends, neighbours – especially Elizabeth, work colleagues and support from my church family. To Colin & Ann, and those from local churches who rang, sent cards and gifts, visited, and prayed for my recovery. I would like to highlight the vital work of the charity Air Ambulance Northern Ireland and encourage the community to do what they can to support this life-saving charity. I would also like to highlight the danger of cattle with young calves and dogs. Sadly, Trigger passed away a short time after this incident.”
The charity Air Ambulance Northern Ireland, in partnership with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, provides the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) for Northern Ireland. The service brings urgent medical assistance to anywhere in the province, operating seven days a week for 12 hours per day. The HEMS team attend patients who are seriously ill or injured, bringing emergency pre-hospital care direct to the casualty with the aim of saving lives, brains and limbs. The aircraft can reach anywhere in Northern Ireland in approximately twenty-five minutes.
On average the medical team are called upon twice every day, whether that is as a result of a serious road traffic collision, farm or workplace accident, sport and leisure incident or a serious medical emergency.
Any patients or families of the HEMS are welcome to visit the airbase and should get in touch with Air Ambulance NI by calling 028 9262 2677.