Sheep farmer Derek Colton was working alone in a remote field on the south Cornish coast when he found himself suffering a sudden cardiac arrest.
Derek and his wife Jenny run a small farm in Probus and a sheep contracting business, which takes him all over the Duchy. That day, in May 1998, he had a contract to inject some lambs at a site in Trewollock, near Gorran Haven.
He had gathered the flock off the cliffs and walked about half a mile back to the yard where he put the sheep in their pen. Just as Derek loaded his dogs back into his Land Rover, he started to feel unwell. He said: “I began to feel a little bit dizzy and that. The pains started in my chest and they got worse and worse. I’ve never experienced pain like that.”
Luckily Derek, who was only 50 at the time, had a fully charged mobile phone with him. “I thought I’ve got to do something, I couldn’t stand up, it really was unbearable”, he said. “With that in mind I thought I’ve got to phone for an ambulance.”
The 999 call handler asked Derek several questions, wanting to know where he was, the name of the farm and a map reference. But Derek didn’t know. He gave the best directions he could, and he was instructed to leave his mobile on.
The ambulance crew managed to track Derek through his phone. He heard the sirens in the distance and getting closer. Once on the scene Derek was given an injection and had an oxygen mask fitted.
Derek said: “I’m not sure on the timescale, but not long after I heard the noise of the air ambulance. It landed right in the field next to the sheds where I was. The next thing I knew they were putting me in the back of the helicopter, this was the first Cornwall Air Ambulance so you went in through the back. I can’t remember anything of the journey, but I remember them landing right outside A&E, it felt like they were going in through the front door, and there was an army of people there waiting for me.”
The Cornwall Air Ambulance crew airlifted Derek to Treliske Hospital in Truro, where he went into intensive care.
Derek was in hospital for around a week, but miraculously didn’t need surgery. He had to slowly start exercising for his recovery. Now almost 25 years later, Derek is still on tablets and has regular check-ups with his doctor, but has suffered no further problems with his heart.
He said: “You don’t think about having a heart attack, it never, ever crossed my mind. When you look at it logically now, to go from Trewollock to Treliske, how long would that have taken by road? I am forever grateful for the Cornwall Air Ambulance.”
Derek and Jenny started to get back to normal. His aim was to carry on doing demonstrations with the sheepdogs at the Royal Cornwall Show. They spoke about it with the organisers and everybody there helped out, so Derek didn’t have to do any of the lifting or carrying. He ended up doing the demonstrations for all three days that year, and apart from the immediate people, nobody knew he had suffered a heart attack.
Jenny said: “I’m just so grateful for Cornwall Air Ambulance, you support these things right from the get go, but you never think that you’re going to need them. It’s difficult to say how grateful you are, not just us but our whole family. There is no doubt about it, they saved his life. All these years down the line he’s still here to tell the tale.”
“Without the air ambulance I don’t think I would be sitting here now”, added Derek. “I’ve never had such excruciating pain whatsoever, to get me directly to the hospital so quickly, I presume all the way to Treliske they were working on me too. If it wasn’t for Cornwall Air Ambulance I probably would have died.”
Since his cardiac arrest, Derek and Jenny have done what they can to support Cornwall Air Ambulance, and Derek’s name is among those on the bottom of your AW169 helicopter.
He is urging all other farmers, and people who work alone and in rural locations, to always tell someone where you are and to carry a fully charged mobile phone.