1 Feb 2024
Three months after moving to London and beginning her career as part of British Airway’s cabin crew, on New Year’s Eve 2019, 25-year-old Lauren was a passenger in a horrific road traffic incident. She was the sole survivor of the crash.
The car Lauren was in collided with an articulated lorry just before midnight. As is customary on New Year’s Eve, in anticipation of a busy night London’s Air Ambulance Charity had four advanced trauma teams on duty: normally there is only one. Given the nature of the incident and the number of potential casualties, London’s Air Ambulance’s team was dispatched within minutes of the 999 call.
On their arrival, there were lots of emergency services already working on the scene, including South East Coast Ambulance, Kent Surrey Sussex Air Ambulance, London Ambulance Service (LAS), London Fire Brigade (LFB), Surrey Fire and Rescue and the police. The team were directed to Lauren, who had been extricated from the car: this had been done rapidly as Lauren’s heart was not beating. Paramedics, assisted by the fire crew and the police, immediately commenced CPR and after eight minutes were able to restart Lauren’s heart. Our crew arrived just as this happened.
It was therefore obvious that Lauren was critically unwell and required some immediate advanced interventions to give her a chance of getting to hospital. She was deeply unconscious. The team quickly assessed her and suspected that she had a severe traumatic brain injury, broken ribs and collapsed lungs, internal bleeding in her abdomen and broken bones to her left arm and right leg. Lauren had no recordable blood pressure, had a very fast heart rate and her oxygen saturations were not measurable. Paramedics had already placed a temporary airway device and were assisting Lauren with her breathing.
Working together with the paramedics, the team quickly placed Lauren on a stretcher, whilst applying a pelvic binder. Subclavian access was sited and through that a blood transfusion was commenced. The team then placed Lauren in an induced coma to take over her breathing, which was ineffective given the injuries to her chest. This was immediately followed by surgical procedures to either side of her chest to release the trapped air caused by the collapsed lungs; allowing her lungs to inflate fully. She was then placed on a mechanical ventilator. On the way to hospital, the team administered a drug to help ease the pressure in Lauren’s brain as both her pupils were not reacting.
Having placed a code red pre alert, Lauren was taken to the nearest major trauma centre. In Glasgow, Lauren’s parents received a visit from the police. “We were told the words ‘life-threatening’ and ‘life-altering injuries’. Those words stuck with us as we made the journey to London to be by her side,” said Pauline, Lauren’s mum.
Lauren was in a coma for a whole month, before being slowly woken up.
Pauline said: “We were told the full extent of the brain injury would not be known until much later.
"But we were convinced Lauren would fight. And fight she did, to breathe, to move a toe, to open one eye, to smile.”
“I have no memory of the accident,” said Lauren. “So when I woke up, not only did my parents have to explain what had happened and the fact that my life had changed forever, they had to tell me that my close friend had died. I can’t imagine what that would have been like for them.”
Lauren remained in hospital for next five months, beginning a long road of recovery all in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Luckily, I had a window, so mum and dad could visit me and pass through my requested sweets, but it was hard to deal with, not having visitors. I never saw another option but to just get through it. There’s never been a point in the last four years where I haven’t just got on with it – because what else can I do. My biggest fear is to have regrets, so I have just worked as hard as I can.”
Once discharged from hospital, Lauren returned to her parents’ home for two years, during which she underwent an intense programme of neuro, occupational and musculoskeletaltherapy.
“That was hard, I needed a lot of assistance, physio in particular, however together and slowly, we managed to get me back to being able to live a life that was similar to the one before. A different life, but a recognisable one.”
Now, in 2024, Lauren is living independently in her own home: a testament to her incredible strength and sheer determination through her rehabilitation.
“I had to form a new dream of what my life was going to be like.”
As a result of the brain injury, Lauren’s short-term memory is not very good and any stress or overwhelming emotion can affect Lauren’s ability to hold a conversation and get her words out. Physically, Lauren cannot feel her right leg when there is no weight going through it, meaning her balance is sometimes unstable. She cannot pronate or supinate her left wrist and the third nerve damage in one eye causes double vision when Lauren looks to the periphery.
However, Lauren continues to tackle these challenges with bravery and positivity. “I find new ways to do things. New ways to go about life.”
Lauren volunteers at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital – the hospital she was treated in in Glasgow – twice a week, making tea and coffee in a rest and recuperation hub for staff and works as a receptionist at a sports injury clinic.
She has also taken up swimming again, a sport she used to do when she was younger. “I started swimming again in my recovery and I’ve kept it up.
“I’m now competing – both in an abled-bodied swimming team and in a para-swimming team. In November 2023 I also did my first 5K. So, I’ve decided my next goal is to do a duathlon: combining my two sports together!
“After the original prognosis my parents received, it’s unreal that I am here today planning my next goal. It is thanks to London’s Air Ambulance Charity – I genuinely wouldn’t be here without them.
“There’s not a charity out there that deserves people’s support more – they really do just save lives, lives like mine.
“I want to help people get through their injuries. I want to help people not give up. It can seem unmanageable – if you were to tell me back then that I would be where I am now, I would have told you no way. If I can do it, there’s nothing stopping you. Don’t let yourself be stopped, just keep going, because you can do it.”
Pauline said: “This accident changed Lauren’s life forever, however we are all too aware that Lauren’s friends and colleagues were not as fortunate and the same heroes who contributed to our future also had to experience the trauma of three young people and their families having their future taken away. We know we are the lucky ones but I don’t think the impact of this tragedy will ever leave us. Regardless, we are forever indebted to everyone there on that night, who did everything they could to care for all four of the young people involved.”
In memory of Rachel, Joe and Dominic.