11 Jun 2024

Alice holding an ice-cream

In June 2020, after meeting friends in Brockwell Park, Alice was cycling back to her house in Streatham. Just a few minutes away from home, Alice was struck by a car and immediately unconscious.

An off-duty paramedic witnessed the incident and requested the dispatch of London’s Air Ambulance’s advanced trauma team.

On their arrival, London Ambulance Service (LAS) paramedics were already treating Alice. They were administering oxygen to her and had established intravenous access. On assessment, our crew suspected that Alice had sustained a traumatic brain injury with an underlying fracture to her skull, explaining why she was so deeply unconscious.

The team proceeded to sedate Alice, which allowed them to quickly and effectively prepare her for a roadside emergency anaesthetic. The team elected to do an emergency anaesthetic for two reasons. Firstly, to protect Alice’s airway because she was unconscious and not able to do so herself. Secondly, to prevent a secondary brain injury by ensuring she was getting the maximum amount of oxygen whilst controlling the carbon dioxide in her system. Once Alice had been anaesthetised, she was connected to a ventilator which mechanically breathed for her. She was then transferred to the nearest major trauma centre, requiring an urgent CT scan and neurosurgical treatment.

While all of this was going on, the police were busy tracking down Alice’s parents. “At our home in Bicester, we heard sirens outside at 03:00,” said Helen, Alice’s mum.

“We answered the door to the police, who said Alice had been involved in a near-fatal accident. They couldn’t tell us if she was alive or dead, they just blue lighted us to the hospital. I’ll never forget that evening – it was like a bomb exploded, the fall out is immeasurable.”

Hours later, after surviving surgery, Helen was able to visit Alice, who remained in a coma.

“When I first saw Ali on the bed in ICU it was as if something had sucked the life out of her – she was there, but without any of her vitality. To see her reduced to that was heart breaking. But she was alive.”

Alice in hospital with her mumAlice remained in a coma for six days, in the ICU for nearly two weeks and in King’s College Hospital for overall four months. She also suffered from hydrocephalus: a condition caused by fluid accumulating in the brain. Unfortunately this caused a secondary brain injury and a shunt had to be implanted to help drain the excess fluid.

Once Alice was managing to breathe without a ventilator, she began the arduous road of relearning the smallest of tasks.

“Alice couldn’t swallow or sit up. She couldn’t speak or see, she couldn’t move or stand or walk,” said Helen. “She was incontinent, she couldn’t do anything by herself.

Alice sitting up for the first time
Alice sitting up for the first time

“She also had complete memory loss, she had no short-term recall at all. It was very scary for us all.”

After the four months in hospital, which were full of steps both forward and back and during tough COVID-19 restrictions, Alice was moved to Blackheath Brain Injury Rehabilitation Centre for six months and then transferred to Queen Elizabeth's Foundation in Ashtead for a further four. On 6 August 2021, Alice was discharged home.

“We set up a home for her where we could live with her and facilitate the therapy she needed,” said Helen. “Someone said to us, this was when the real hard work begins. They were right.”

As a result of the brain injury, Alice suffered from immense fatigue, a lack of balance and memory loss. But her determination, hard work and drive to get better powered her progress.

Alice in a wheelchair and her mum“She has always been a little stubborn!” said Helen. “She’s always made things happen for herself.”

Now, four years on from her accident, Alice is still working hard at her recovery with the help of a support worker. Speech and language therapy and physiotherapy fill her calendar every week, including targeted exercises like horse riding, piano and skiing lessons. She has made a remarkable recovery, especially considering the severity of her injury.

“I used to love skiing,” said Alice. “And I still do now, I just need to get back to where I used to be.

“I have no memory of the incident or of rehab, so it can be frustrating sometimes. My life is a little different than how I planned, but I only want to get better and I am prepared to work hard.”

This year, Alice has moved into her own house which was a momentous step. She is enjoying her life with 24/7 care and support and has plans to go on a skiing holiday with her brother.

Alice and her mum, smiling on holiday“Alice’s life and plans for her future are so different now,” said Helen. “But she is excited to make a new life for herself and push the possibilities to their limit.”

Alice continues to reach milestones many clinicians did not think possible.

When considering what got the family through this journey, both Alice and Helen thank the people they had behind them.

“Alice’s friendship group has nearly 150 people and they’re still walking this journey with her today. Our family has also had overwhelming support from our church and friends – both at home and worldwide. Alice had to fight and battle, but with constant support, love and unfailing commitment from an army of family, friends and medics, Ali has defied all expectations.

“We would keep all these people updated with regular reports and videos,” said Helen. “It was so powerful knowing how many people were there for us, praying for Alice.” You can watch one of the family’s videos here for a further insight into Alice’s journey.

Alice with family members“It feels very good to have so many people cheering me on,” said Alice. “I’m so lucky to have my family and friends – they’re all amazing.”

Helen said:“When you hear people considering whether they should or shouldn’t support the charity, I want to say to them it could be your daughter. It could be your wife or your mum. This could happen to anyone and we need London’s Air Ambulance Charity to be there.

“If it wasn’t for London’s Air Ambulance Charity, we could have lost Alice that day. We know that’s the case.”

In March 2022, some of Alice’s friends and former colleagues walked the distance of a marathon to raise money for the service that saved Alice’s life, totalling an incredible donation of £10,000. You can read their full story here.

We’re so thrilled to see Alice’s incredible recovery and wish her and her family all the very best for the future.

“Recovering from a brain injury is not a sprint, but a marathon,” said Helen. “We hope Alice’s story can help inspire another family to get through it.”

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London, we need you. Time is running out to replace your life-saving helicopters.
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