Birchens Edge Rescue

On the 14 April, Tony Brock and his friend Samwere climbing at Birchens Edge near Baslow whenTony fell and sustained a very significant head injury.To say he was unlucky is an understatement as hewas wearing a helmet and was being top-roped upa route. Unfortunately, he had strayed off routewhen he fell, which caused him to pendulum acrossthe rock face and into a small outcrop of rock.Inspection of his helmet later revealed very littlevisible damage considering the seriousness of hisinjuries.

A 999 call was made to the ambulance servicewho, in turn, contacted mountain rescue. BirchensEdge falls within Edale’s area but, due to this beinga midweek call, Buxton team was called as well. Thetwo teams have had this midweek workingarrangement in each others’ areas for many years toensure an adequate response is available during theworking day.

Our closest team member, Trev Lawton, lives lessthan five minutes from the RV point and happenedto be at home, so an initial quick response wasmade. When he got to the RV he met up with MattHood who was also in the area, and a respondingEast Midlands Ambulance Service crew. Togetherthey made their way up to the base of the crag withTrev and Matt getting there a few minutes in front ofthe EMAS crew (as you would hope!) On arrival theyfound Tony slipping in and out of conciousness andstarting to fit. All this was compromising his airwayso airway management with C-spine controlbecame the priority.

This was done by means of manual C-spineimmobilisation with a jaw thrust to maintain theairway. In the short period of time that followed theEMAS crew arrived, along with Steve Rowe ourmedical officer. Soon after, an air ambulance alsolanded at the top of the crag – a welcome arrival,especially as we were unsure whether they wereflying due to the ash cloud which was floatingaround at the time. Steve was able to giveintravenous diazepam to stop Tony fitting. However,his airway was still threatened at this point andbeing maintained by meticulous attention and ahealthy jaw thrust from Trevor. Due to trismus (jawclenching), a nasopharyngeal airway was alsoinserted at this point.

By this stage it was apparent that Tony wassuffering from a very serious head injury thatrequired getting him to hospital as soon as possible.As he was being packaged on the stretcher weasked the air ambulance paramedic to contact theaircraft to get it to move and land in a field below thecrag. Whilst it was possible to negotiate a route upthe crag without rigging ropes it would require morepeople than we had on scene to carry out a handover hand safely up the crag.

The message got through and the aircraft startedto move at the same time as the stretcher party.Frustratingly, it didn’t land where we wanted whichmeant prolonging the carry off, admittedly only by afew hundred yards but it added precious time ontothe evacuation. Likewise we requested that the pilotlet us hot load Tony into the aircraft to save time. Asis the pilots perogative, he declined and wanted toshut down before we approached. Whilst we fullyunderstood his reasons it added more preciousminutes onto the time that it took to get Tony tohospital.

As the helicopter disappeared over the horizonand we started sorting our kit out, much of the talkrevolved around Tony’s prognosis. It would be fair tosay we did not think he would survive his injuriesand, if he did then, would be severely braindamaged. Over the coming weeks we kept in touch with the hospital. Most of the time there was nochange with him being sedated and unconsciousfor a number of weeks. Then we found out he wasbeing transferred to a hospital closer to home,which is when we lost touch.

Some three months later we were all very pleasedto hear from Tony with a request to meet up with usto say thank you.We were even more pleased whenhe walked through the door of our base looking asfit as a fiddle and fully compos mentis. Indeed theonly sign of his ordeal was the skull cap he waswearing to protect his head. Tony had beenunconscious in hospital for the best part of a monthwith the surgeons having to remove part of his skullto let his brain swell (a decompressive craniectomy).He was now waiting for them to fit a titanium plate inplace of the bit they had removed and the skull capwas to prevent any potentially fatal blows to hisbrain that was currently only covered by skin!In what was a very rewarding experience for allinvolved, we spent a good couple of hours speakingto Tony, his partner and his climbing partner andexplaining what had happened on the day. Tony forhis part was obviously very appreciative for theactions of everyone involved in his rescue and care.He has already been back to the hospital to saythanks to them and is also making arrangements tomeet the ambulance and air ambulance staffinvolved.

It means a lot to the team to meet those whomthey have rescued and who have made a goodrecovery due to the team’s work. Like all teammembers up and down the country we train hardand spend a lot of time maintaining team equipmentand vehicles. Sometimes this can seem like athankless task but visits like this help remind peoplewhat its all about and recharge the ‘enthusiasmsupplies’!

As with most jobs, we looked at how we could dothings better and quicker. Most of our climbingcrags are not far from the road (one of the reasonsthey’re so popular) and we pride ourselves on theresponse time and level of medical care we canprovide.We aim to get a casualty into an ambulanceor air ambulance within an hour of getting the calland ensure every full team member is a casualtycare certificate holder. In this instance it took us 75minutes and there was a period of time when teammembers we left to deal with a seriously injuredcasualty with very little equipment until we got ateam vehicle there. This has spurred the purchase ofa number of snatch trauma bags, which have beenissued to team members who live in close proximityto some of our accident hotspots. These containairway adjuncts, oxygen, bag and mask, andsuction. There is also a box of team issue drugsfrom the MREW list, plus dressings etc. This meanswe can start giving more advanced and potentiallylife saving medical care prior to the arrival of themain team kit.

Hopefully we will not get called to something asserious as Tony’s accident for a long time but if wedo then we are better equipped to make adifference.