An international Irish sportsman has spoken of his huge debt of gratitude to the Irish Community Rapid Response (ICRR) air ambulance for saving his life .
Polocrosse player Shane Harris (31) was riding his horse near his home in Fethard, Co Tipperary, on the June bank holiday last year when the animal reared up and fell back on top of him, crushing him to the horror of his partner, Kim Ronan, who was watching with her father and two brothers.
“I was out riding one of my polocrosse horses and he reared up which was totally out of character for him. He fell back on top of me, crushing me. I was knocked unconscious once I hit the ground but Kim raised the alarm and the air ambulance arrived and landed near me,” said Mr Harris.
“They took the decision to airlift me to Cork University Hospital and they got me down there in about 25 minutes. I got a blood transfusion when I arrived in the hospital because I had sustained some internal bleeding as well as two punctured lungs, eight broken ribs and a broken collarbone.
“The internal bleeding was a big problem because my lungs were filling with blood so they had to clear that out. I was on drains for a good while and I had a couple of operations as well to clear my lungs but thankfully I made a good recovery and I’m fine now – 95 per cent right – as good as I can be.”
Mr Harris said the ICRR air ambulance was the difference between him surviving and not surviving the incident and he was in touch with the team, who are based at Rathcoole near Millstreet in north Cork, to thank them for saving his life.
“I’ve been talking to a few of them but I haven’t had the chance to go down and thank them in person because of the Covid, but they definitely saved my life and not just my life. There would be plenty of people dead last year but for them – they are a vital service and they do a great job.”
Mr Harris was speaking as it emerged that the ICRR air ambulance, which works in tandem with the National Ambulance Service (NAS), flew a total of 490 missions across 13 counties in 2020 to provide paramedic support and transport to hospital for seriously-ill patients.
Road traffic collisions accounted for 94 of the ICRR taskings, followed by calls to cardiac arrests which accounted for 81, general trauma calls which totalled 74, general medic cardiac arrests which totalled 73, farming accidents which totalled 46 and 29 calls to deal with people falling from heights.
According to the ICRR, Cork, Kerry and Waterford were the counties with the most calls. The air ambulance, which is staffed by advanced paramedics and emergency medical training solutions, also provided support for incidents in Tipperary, Clare, Wexford, Limerick, Leitrim, Kildare, Kilkenny, Offaly, Roscommon and Galway.
ICRR chief executive Mícheál Sheridan said the figures for call-outs in 2020 clearly showed there was a demand for an air ambulance service based in the south of the country. He said the air ambulance, which can be airborne within four minutes, was within 30 minutes of most areas in its catchment.
"Dozens of lives have been saved as a result of the hard work of the crew and care administered in a timely manner to hundreds of others. Ireland needs this service and this service needs the continuing support of our community fundraisers and corporate supporters."
Mr Sheridan said the ICRR air ambulance can bring casualties to the hospital that best suits their life-saving needs, not just the closest geographically. From its base in Rathcoole, it can ensure that a 25,000sq km area is within 30 minutes of emergency medical care, he added.
NAS director, Martin Dunne, said the ICRR air ambulance had been a great addition to the emergency response capacity of the NAS as it ensures critically-ill patients can be brought to emergency trauma centres faster, improving the likelihood of a successful outcome.
"Our dispatch teams have the option of either the Air Corps service from Tullamore or the ICRR service from north Munster. This provides much-needed and timely support to our on-road response teams operating across the country," he said.
Mr Sheridan said the ICRR air ambulance has two helicopters based at its medical aerodrome at Rathcoole. Only one helicopter is operational at any one time and the other acts as a back up. A new, faster helicopter with longer-range capacity is due to arrive later this year.
“We know that there will always be a demand for the service across the country. A priority for us in 2021 is to work with other partners to ensure everyone on the island of Ireland is within 30 minutes of an air ambulance service either provided by ICRR or the Irish Air Corps.”
He said that the ICRR recently launched its new "Further Faster" campaign to help raise the €1.5 million needed this year to fund the service and its new Air ambulance helicopter. He urged people to support the appeal by logging on to the ICRR website.