At just 18 years old, Steven Webb didn’t realise that playing at a local swimming pool in Truro with his friends would change his life forever.
It was a Sunday night in the summer of 1991, and just like they did many times before, the group were enjoying their local facilities and having a good time.
Steven had climbed up the wall, walked along the top of it and dived into the deep end of the pool. As he dived in, he hit the bottom, and broke his neck.
“I broke C5, I was instantly paralysed and couldn’t move any part of my body”, said Steven. “I started to float to the surface, and because I was a joker my friends didn’t instantly jump in to come and get me, then I started sinking to the bottom, everything went really peaceful and calm, with a strange sense of everything is going to be okay, then that rush of panic hit that I’m dying and I couldn’t breathe. My friends came in and got me and dragged me out to the side of the pool, they thought I was having an asthma attack but by that point I couldn’t move and could barely breathe.”
It was the days before everyone had mobile phones, so Steven’s friends had to run down the hill to the phone box to call 999. He was taken to the old Truro City Hospital, where he lost consciousness several times and his heart had to be restarted. Steven was stabilised and had a halo fitted to his head to keep his neck straight, but he needed specialist care.
The decision was made that Cornwall Air Ambulance would airlift him to Salisbury, where the nearest specialist spinal unit was, to give him the best chance of recovery. The flight took around one-and-a-half to two hours.
Just a few weeks earlier Steven had taken part in a 24-hour pool marathon in aid of Cornwall Air Ambulance, and had raised £1,600.
Steven said: “I was really poorly but I didn’t realise how poorly I was, but when I was airlifted it really hit home. I feel very lucky, on the other hand it’s one of those things that you wish you never need, but we’re very lucky to have it in Cornwall.
“Those hours were so vital. Just getting to that specialist team and those consultants so quickly, I believe it saved my life, I had a tracheotomy put in because I could hardly breathe.
“Unfortunately the bone went right through my spinal cord, so there wasn’t a chance for me in terms of recovery, but in many incidents that stability and getting to hospital in the smoothest possible way is so vital and so important. In Cornwall, with the coast and so many people tombstoning or diving into the waves, I know people who are even more paralysed than me from that. Being able to pick people up in the smoothest possible way is so vital for Cornwall.”
Steven was in hospital for nearly 12 months in total. He also went through rehabilitation and had to learn a whole new way of living.
“Although you have a feeling that you’re paralysed for life, when the doctors explained that, they said to be realistic you’re going to be in a wheelchair for the rest of your life, hearing that at 18 years old, I think secretly I knew already, but hearing that was really, really difficult.”
Photo credit: PR4Photos
30 years later, Steven is a member of Truro City Council and served as the Mayor of Truro for two years. He is helping the people of the city he loves and grew up in, and is thanking the Cornwall Air Ambulance paramedics who helped him get there.
“The Cornwall Air Ambulance crew were so great. I can remember lying on my back with the halo on my head to keep it stable, they were having to put tubes down my nose and my throat, they we so attentive and so brilliant the whole way”, said Steven. “It was still the first air ambulance in the country, it must have been a risk to take me and they were flying a long way. I just want to say thank you to the crew, and all of the crews, when they take off they don’t know what they’re flying into. What a brave and rewarding thing to do.”
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