15 stories: Keith Willis


A DRIVING instructor’s life was left hanging in the balance after a mid-lesson collision at a busy North-East junction. Keith Willis, of Consett, sustained a broken back, two punctured lungs, broken ribs and ruptured bowel in the incident.

A DRIVING instructor’s life was left hanging in the balance after a mid-lesson collision at a busy North-East junction.

Keith Willis, of Consett, sustained a broken back, two punctured lungs, broken ribs and ruptured bowel in the incident. Doctors said the major organ not affected was Mr Willis’ heart.

The 54-year-old credits his survival to the efforts of medics from the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), which airlifted him following the crash to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

Last week he visited GNAAS doctor, Dion Arbid, at the charity’s airbase at Durham Tees Valley Airport to thank him and other members of the aircrew, who cover the region 365 days a year.

The incident happened at Wilk’s Hill, south of Durham on October 10, 2012. Although it is not known exactly what caused the collision, Mr Willis’ car hit an oncoming vehicle head on.

GNAAS flew to the scene to work alongside the other emergency services. The charity’s doctor-led trauma team performed intensive treatments on Mr Willis on the roadside, including inducing him into a coma and draining blood from his lungs through a surgical procedure. These techniques can only be performed by doctors, which is why Mr Willis believes GNAAS saved his life.

“If the air ambulance hadn’t been there, the chances are it would have been a different story,” he said. “I just don’t think I would have made it.”

Mr Willis’ female student, who was driving at the time, suffered only minor injuries.

“The most important thing is that she’s ok,” he added.

It wasn’t until two weeks after the crash, on Mr Willis’ 50th birthday, that he regained consciousness. But this was just the beginning of his road to recovery.

Since then, he undergone frequent operations and treatments, and remains a regular visitor to hospital on account of various lingering symptoms.

“It’s changed my life an awful lot, but at the same time, I am grateful for what I have,” he said.

 “Meeting Dion was very emotional, especially knowing he saved my life.”

Since the incident, the grandfather-of-three has diverted his energy into fundraising for the charity.

He has raised more than £13,000 for GNAAS. The majority of that has been raised through an annual golf day held at Consett and District Golf Club. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the event, and will take place on Sunday, August 28. Teams are welcome to join and can call the golf club on 01207 505060 to register.

Dr Arbid said: “Keith was incredibly lucky to survive with the range and severity of injuries he had sustained. That he is now back on his feet and fundraising for the charity speaks volumes about his strength of character. We are proud to have him as a supporter.”

GNAAS is celebrating its fifteenth anniversary of becoming an independent registered charity. To find out how you can help, visit www.gnaas.com

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