Flying doctor’s African adventure

Flying doctor Chris Johnson is used to dealing with the unexpected but even he was not prepared for receiving a patient from a Maasai warrior.

The 35-year-old has just returned to the North-East from Africa where he spent three weeks rescuing seriously ill patients from remote communities.

Chris, of North Shields, splits his normal time working for the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) and the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. But he recently volunteered to work for AMREF Flying Doctors, taking the skills honed in the region to some of the most isolated communities in the world.

During one mission, Chris found himself face to face with a Maasai warrior. The man had driven a stricken safari-goer to the airfield and handed him over to the awaiting medical crew.

“Like working on our North-East air ambulance, you never know what you are going to encounter when called out to a job,” he said.

“We were working in countries where their healthcare isn’t quite what we have in the UK. This means it was an opportunity to make a real difference.

“Another highlight was flying over the Serengeti and seeing all the animals below. It was breathtaking.”

During the course of the three week trip, Chris’ work took him to Nairobi, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Somalia as he was assigned to patients suffering a range of complex and critical illnesses and injuries.

“It was a real mix, from heart attacks and strokes to traumatic injuries like falls,” he said. “It was like the work we encounter back home but often the patients would have faced even lengthier journeys to hospital.

“From a professional perspective, experiencing pre-hospital care under different pressures is always going to be of benefit. But it was generally just invigorating having the opportunity to challenge myself in a new environment.”

GNAAS operates three helicopter air ambulances in the North-East, North Yorkshire and Cumbria. It relies on donations to survive. To find out how you can help, visit

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