Family recall airlift drama in air ambulance anniversary year

Lewis Gray, centre, with his dad, Alex, and mum, Emma.

Lewis Gray, centre, with his dad, Alex, and mum, Emma. - Credit: Archant

Preparations are underway to mark the 15th anniversary of the East Anglian Air Ambulance which has provided life-saving and emergency treatment to thousands of people across the region. DEBBIE DAVIES spoke to a Huntingdon family about the heart-stopping moment when they needed the charity’s assistance.

When Alex Gray was told his 18-month-old son Lewis was critically ill after suffering a series of epileptic fits he admits he was paralysed by fear.

It was April, 2012, and Lewis was at an amusement park in Hemsby, near Great Yarmouth, with his grandparents, when his eyes suddenly “glazed over” and he started fitting.

After receiving the initial phone call, Alex, 27, and his fiancée Emma Eldergill, could only sit helplessly and wait for news while Emma’s panic-stricken parents tried to stay calm as Lewis deteriorated.

“The worst thing was waiting for news,” said Alex. “We kept ringing, but there was so much going on we couldn’t talk to anyone.

“There was a delay in treating him because it was out of season and the medical hut on the beach was closed. It was just the worst feeling ever. He was so little and so far away.”

Alex and Emma, now of Westfield Road, Ramsey, but previously from Huntingdon, were preparing to leave to drive the 98 miles to Yarmouth when they were told their son was being airlifted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge by air ambulance.

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The air ambulance paramedics treated the toddler at the scene and because he had continued to have seizures for 50 minutes decided to transport him to the Cambridge hospital which has a first-class reputation for its paediatric care.

A journey of just under two hours by road took less than 25 minutes in the air and Alex and Emma were waiting for their son when he arrived at hospital.

Alex says the sight that greeted them was terrifying. Lewis was breathing through a tube; there were wires everywhere and five or six medical professionals were working on him.

“He was motionless - just laying there with all these wires,” said Alex. “I looked at him and felt helpless. They had sedated him to stop him fitting and told us that children of his age can sometimes have problems regulating their body heat and temperature.”

Lewis was kept in hospital for three days for observation, but made a full recovery and Alex, a chef at RAF Wyton, remembers clearly the moment his son woke up.

“He woke up and looked at all the wires he was attached to and started laughing. I will never forget his face. It was brilliant.”

Alex has stayed in touch with members of the EAAA crew and to date has raised almost £2,000 for the service by taking part in fundraising events, including running the London Marathon in 2013.

“We owe them a lot. When Lewis needed help they made a decision to take him to a hospital where he would have the best possible chance, rather than just take him to the nearest one, and we believe that made all the difference.”

Lewis is now a boisterous five-year-old who started at Ramsey Spinning Infants School last September and seems to remember nothing of his traumatic ordeal and ride in the EAAA helicopter.

“We took him to Cambridge a couple of years ago and he got to sit in one of the new helicopters, which he loved,” said Alex. “He is fine now. We will never forget it, but he is okay, very bright and happy.”