Grace Gardiner was only four-months old when she became critically ill and needed emergency surgery.

The now 12-year-old from Penrith, was only a baby when she suffered a blockage in her bowels, and had an inch of her intestine turn gangrene.

The incident

Grace started vomiting severely while at home with her mother Helen Gardiner on 27 February 2007.

Helen took Grace to the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle, however after driving her there, Grace’s health became progressively worse.

“They said there was something wrong with her intestines, and they had to put her on life support.  We were told that she would need emergency surgery and they didn’t have the facilities and she would need to go to Newcastle,” said Helen.

The aftermath

Unfortunately, there were no viable options available to transfer Grace due to how critically ill she was, but in a moment of serendipity, the team from GNAAS were at the same hospital, so they offered to airlift her.

The GNAAS paramedic and doctor team anaesthetised Grace before flying her to hospital in Newcastle.

“She managed to get there after several complications en route,” said paramedic Lee Salmon.

“It pushed us to our clinical limits and her to her limitations of life. Grace is almost the same age as my own daughter Lily, so it was hugely emotional for me when, after the complications, I went and explained all that had gone on to the parents and grandparents.”

It transpired that Grace had a Meckel’s diverticulum with intussusception which is a blockage in her bowel, and she had to be resuscitated twice during surgery at the Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Helen said: “She was prepped for surgery instantly and we just had to say goodbye and hope for the best.”

The recovery

“She had an inch of her intestine removed after it had turned gangrene which caused her body to have multiple organ failure. She was touch and go the first few days and spent a week in intensive care and a week in the baby ward before coming home.

“If it hadn’t have been for the air ambulance, she just wouldn’t be here because nobody else could take her and she would never have survived the journey without them. We owe everything to the air ambulance,” said Helen.

Thankfully Grace has since made a full recovery.


Grace’s family have kept in touch with Lee over the years and he even received a card with a donation from Grace a few days after completing the Great North Run for GNAAS in 2018.

Mrs Gardiner said: “Lee’s daughter is only nine days younger than Grace, so I think it just had a really big impact on him as well because of that. Every time we see him since he’s just a hero – an absolute hero.”

Grace's story

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