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Midlands Air Ambulance: Top-flight charity celebrated as it tops 50,000 vital missions

By Lisa O'Brien | Health | Published:

The life-saving work of a charity which helps people in their greatest times of need is being celebrated this week.

Sandra Speck has helped to raise £100,000 for the charity

From just one helicopter flying out of a temporary airbase to three helicopters serving a population of more than six million people, Midlands Air Ambulance Charity (MAAC) has come a long way since 1991.

In the past 27 years, the charity has responded to more than 50,000 missions making it one of the longest established and busiest air ambulance organisations in the UK.

National Air Ambulance Week, which started yesterday, aims to raise the profile of air ambulance charities and the vital need for donations to ensure they are here for generations to come.

From the pilots and medics to the fundraising and admin staff, everyone plays their part in keeping MAAC flying fit so crews can respond to those most critically injured. With the ability to reach 90 per cent of the region within just eight minutes, it saves precious time for those who need immediate medical attention and specialist hospital treatment quickly.

Volunteer Marcus Watkin, whose life was saved by the team, gives talks to schools on the work of the Midlands Air Ambulance

Marcus Watkin knows first-hand how important the charity is. The 51-year-old father-of-two was riding a motorbike which collided with a car at Halfway House, near Shrewsbury, in 2002. He suffered multiple injuries and was flown by air ambulance to Royal Stoke University Hospital.

“My life was saved by the skilled staff at the North Staffordshire Trauma Centre and by Midlands Air Ambulance Charity who got me there from the crash at Halfway House so quickly,” he said. “Without them I’m confident that I wouldn’t be here today.”

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Mr Watkin, who was a car valeter before the accident, spent a year in hospital and was left wheelchair-bound with a spinal injury. He has since given his time to volunteer for MAAC, giving talks about the charity at schools, colleges and community groups.

“I’ve lost count of how many talks I’ve done,” said Mr Watkin, who lives in Shrewsbury.

“I talk about how the charity operates, how much it needs to run, the fact we are not Government funded – a lot of people are shocked by that.”

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Paramedic Ian Lock runs through checks on the aircraft

Chris Levey makes sure those life-saving missions get off the ground as one of the two base pilots of Helimed 03, the 145 helicopter based at RAF Cosford.

The 45-year-old former paramedic, from Stafford, has been flying with MAAC for four-and-a-half years and says he is fortunate to work with a great team of people that do remarkable things. “As the duty pilot, our responsibilities are with all the aviation aspects of the operation,” he said. “The day starts with preparing the aircraft with pre-flight checks. We look at the weight, balance and expected performance of the aircraft with the day’s crew and current weather conditions.

“When that’s all done, we brief the crew on all of the above and then wait to see if the ‘red’ phone rings.

“We don’t know where we’ll be sent until the phone rings, and so a short flight can be very busy, especially travelling at 150mph.”

Critical care paramedic Sarah Folley checking vital equipment at the airbase before a mission

One of the medics is Dr Richard Browne, who is based on the aircraft at RAF Cosford.

When he is not carrying out his role as a consultant in pre-hospital emergency medicine, he is a consultant in intensive care medicine at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where he looks after many of the patients flown in by the charity.

The 37 year old, of Stourbridge, who has been with the charity about three years, says there is no such thing as a typical day. “We never know what we will be called to, but we start each day by checking our kit, drugs and the aircraft, ensuring we are ready for an emergency call,” he said.

“In between calls we spend time maintaining kit, keeping up to date with new guidelines and protocols and undertaking training and teaching at the base, particularly if we have a paramedic or doctor in training to work on the aircraft.”

Working alongside him on every shift are the critical care paramedics, who staff all three of the charity’s aircraft as well as a critical care car which operates from Oldbury.

Events and collections co-ordinator Tracy Smith has been with the charity for 18 years

They also work in the regional control room at West Midlands Ambulance Service’s headquarters in Brierley Hill, trying to identify the most serious cases where sending an air ambulance could make a life-changing difference.

Ian Lock, aged 43, of Newport, is a critical care paramedic, responding to such incidents as crashes, falls, heart attacks, strokes, stabbings and serious assaults. The air ambulance he travels aboard may be able to respond to up to half a dozen incidents a day, but weather can be one of the biggest challenges.

Sarah Folley was a paramedic for 18 years and worked from Shrewsbury ambulance station before joining MAAC in April. The 39 year old, of Neachley, is a trainee specialist trauma paramedic and says it differs massively to what she was doing before.

She said: “I feel privileged to see first-hand where the charity money goes. I get to see the difference that time-saving interventions brought by being transported by helicopter make. Seeing this every day is a credit to anyone who has ever donated money to MAAC.

“At the aircraft open days it’s lovely. People will tell you about the times they were airlifted and the difference it made to their lives.” She said it is great to spend this week reflecting on the lives saved and the importance of charitable donations which are so vital.

Admin assistant Kenton Samuels joined to help ‘a worthwhile charity doing an excellent job’

For Tracy Smith, her job involves collecting those donations. The 58 year old, of Gobowen, is an events and collections co-ordinator and has been working with the charity for 18 years.

She empties thousands of collection tins that have been put in shops, pubs and community spaces.

“People are really generous, she said. “What we collect is enough to pay for the fuel for the aircraft. We all go about our lives and we hope that we will never need to use it but are really glad to know it is there if we do.

“The air ambulance saves lives by saving time.”

Sandra Speck is one of the charity’s vital fundraisers and has helped to raise £100,000 in the past decade through sponsored dances, raffles and other events.

The 53 year old, of Harmer Hill, north of Shrewsbury, teaches line dancing in the county. She said: “I joined as a fundraiser when one of my line dancers was involved in a serious head-on collision. If it wasn’t for MAAC, she wouldn’t have survived – we live out in the country and it would have taken too long to travel to the scene by road.”

Back at MAAC’s headquarters in Stourbridge, Kenton Samuels helps to process donations and handle queries as one of the charity’s admin assistants.

The 42 year old, who lives on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, has been with the charity for just over six months.

“I joined because I wanted to be a part of a very worthwhile charity that does an excellent job in our community,” he said.

See air ambulance at open day

‘Hard work’ – Hanna Sebright

Road accidents and medical emergencies are the main reasons why air ambulances are called out to Shropshire.

It is one of six counties the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity (MAAC) covers, operating three air ambulances strategically located so that 90 per cent of the region is within reach within eight minutes. Each carry a crew comprising a pilot, two paramedics or flight doctors plus full life-support medical equipment.

And the charity’s annual open day is at the Strensham airbase in Worcestershire on Sunday, as part of National Air Ambulance Week (NAAW).

People are invited to go along to the free event and find out more about the charity by chatting to the aircrew and exploring one of the helicopters.

If a patient reaches hospital within the ‘golden hour’ – 60 minutes after their injury – their chances of survival are dramatically increased.

It is one of the reasons why the charity is so vital, especially in the more rural parts of the county where normal ambulances could take much longer to reach patients. On receiving an emergency call, one of the medical aircrew will take notes on the nature of the incident and the co-ordinates for the location.

The crew can be airborne in just two minutes.

Collided

Once in the air it is the role of the medical crew aboard to assist the pilot with navigation, and on arrival at the scene, the pilot pinpoints the optimal landing site.

Within the last few weeks in Shropshire, a woman was airlifted to Royal Stoke University Hospital after the car she was travelling in collided with a tractor near to Wem.

Another woman involved in a crash on the A41 in Higher Heath, near Whitchurch, was also flown to the same hospital.

Hanna Sebright, chief executive of the charity, says NAAW is a fantastic opportunity for all member charities of the Association of Air Ambulances to come together and nationally promote the lifesaving work carried out every day of the year. She said: “Through NAAW, we hope to raise awareness of the work that MAAC does, and its plans for the future to continue saving lives on a daily basis. MAAC has a loyal and committed supporter base, which has grown over the 27 years following the charity’s incorporation in 1991.

“We never take our donors, volunteers and partners for granted. As always we continue to strive to provide the best possible air ambulance service that we can across the six counties that we serve.

“This reflects in our hard work to drive fundraising and achieve long-term resilience.”

MAAC’s chairman Roger Pemberton added: “The charity is a happy and satisfying place for all staff, volunteers and trustees. That alone is an important contributing factor towards its continuing success.”

For more on the open day visit midlandsairambulance.com/news-and-events/events/os5aaukvhui3

Big or small – every donation really counts

Fundraising executive Maria Jones

Fundraisers are vital to the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity which must raise £9 million every year to make sure it can continue its life-saving missions.

The charity receives no Government or National Lottery funding, relying on the public and businesses for support.

Maria Jones, of Longdon-Upon-Tern, near Telford, is the charity’s fundraising executive for Shropshire.

“I look for new ways of bringing money into the charity, plus supporting people who are already fundraising,” she said. “It’s also about spreading awareness of the service we provide to everyone across the county.

“No two days are ever the same, which is why I love working for MAAC. One day I could be at a school with children of all ages, taking an assembly and the next I will be at a formal function giving a 20-minute speech.”

All sorts of events help to raise funds for the charity, with staff also getting involved. Speaking about her own fundraising efforts, Ms Jones said: “I’ve walked 25 miles across Hadrian’s Wall in a day. I’ve abseiled from the top of the Cosford Museum and I take part in our annual Walk4Life every May.

“I’ve persuaded my family to get involved with fundraising. My son used to hold regular doughnut sales at school and my husband has cycled from John O’Groats to Land’s End to raise money.

Determined

“It’s so vital that people get involved in fundraising. Whether it’s big or small, every donation really counts to the charity. We rely totally on public donations and receive no funding, so it is so important that people keep supporting us. I’ve met many wonderful people over the last 10 years who have used the service and who would definitely not be alive today if had not been for the work of MAAC.

“Fundraising can be fun, and we can always support anyone who is thinking of holding an event or taking part in any kind of fundraising.” She says any money raised is never taken for granted.

“Many people are so kind and generous, sometimes someone may have used our service but sadly passed away, and often their families are so determined and committed to fundraising in memory of their loved one,” she added.

“A great moment for me was when one of our regular fundraisers, Sandra Speck, received a recognition award at our ball last year. Sandra works so hard and has raised thousands of pounds over the last 10 years – the look of shock and surprise on her face when she was called to the stage was priceless.”

One of its biggest fundraisers is the Bike4Life Ride Out, which attracts thousands of bikers riding from Meole Brace in Shrewsbury to RAF Cosford.

The charity also has three shops in Wellington, Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire and West Bromwich. It is also promoting its new campaign, MAAC’n’Cheese, and is inviting people to hold their own cheese-inspired fundraisers. For details of events held in aid of the charity visit midlandsairam bulance.com/news-and-events/events.

Lisa O'Brien

By Lisa O'Brien
Senior Reporter - @lisaobrien_Star

Senior reporter based at Shropshire Star's head office in Ketley. Covering the Telford area.

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