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Patient speared by a forklift truck reunited with life-saving team

Jonathan Willis under-went emergency surgery at Addenbrooke's to remove a metre long piece of metal from his back and abdomen, after being impaled by a forklift truck.

Jonathan Willis
Jonathan Willis with the forklift 'spear'.

Jonathan was working on his farm near Wisbech on 26 October 2020 when the accident happened.

The father to five daughters, he had been unloading a trailer of straw bales when his forklift rolled forward and he became impaled on one of the tines, spearing him through the back and out the other side, through his abdomen.

His wife Wendy raised the alarm and minutes later the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) was on it's way.

The EAAA team worked with the ambulance, police and fire and rescue teams to assess Jonathan’s injuries and using an angle grinder, cut him free from the forklift truck.

Now, with the 'spear' still through his body, Jonathan was taken by road to Addenbrooke's were an expert surgical team was ready and waiting.

He remained conscious throughout and had to keep as still as possible - any movement could have resulted in catastrophic bleeding.

Forklift rescue
Jonathan being cut from the forklift truck by emergency services.

I’m just so, so thankful that there were so many expert teams available to help me get through it

Jonathan Willis, CUH patient

Wendy Willis, Jonathan’s wife, said:

“We know that without the enhanced skills of the air ambulance team that day Jonathan wouldn’t have made it to hospital. They took control of the situation – which was like living my worst nightmare – and made all the right decisions which got him to the right hospital and to the right surgeon with a fighting chance.

Wendy continued: “We were then so incredibly lucky that Jonathan had one of the best surgeons in the country leading his operation. The Addenbrooke’s team quite literally worked miracles in the operating theatre that night".

Forklift rescue
Emmanuel Huguet with Jonathan and the forklift 'spear' removed during emergency surgery at CUH.

There were approximately 30 people in the operating theatre at one point

Emmanuel Huguet, consultant liver and transplant surgeon at CUH

Led by Mr Emmanuel Huguet, the Addenbrooke's surgical team worked throughout the night to save Jonathan, operating on him for almost seven hours.

Emmanuel said: "In order to carry out this highly complex surgery, there were approximately 30 people in the operating theatre at one point, including colleagues who held the spike in place from underneath before we were sure it was safe to remove.

"When we finally had everything in place to safely open Mr Willis’ abdomen, we were astounded by the trajectory of the spike. It had transfixed parts of the intestine, but somehow found an incredibly improbable ‘eye of the needle’ line past all the major blood vessels, as well as missing the right kidney, liver, and pancreas. At that point it was possible to safely remove the spike and repair the intestinal injuries.

“Mr Willis’ incredible recovery is down to his amazing composure and courage throughout this ordeal and the amazing team work I witnessed that night at Addenbrooke’s. Many people from different professions in the emergency services - in and out of the hospital - drew on years of experience and know-how to get Mr Willis safely recovered."

Just two weeks later, Jonathan was discharged to recover at home, although it took almost five months for his wounds to heal fully.

I have been amazed by his survival and recovery... These stories sustain us and help keep us ready for the next call

Dr Nathan Howes, consultant in emergency medicine and pre-hospital emergency medicine

Dr Nathan Howes, specialty lead for the major trauma service at Addenbrooke's said:

"I have worked for East Anglian Air Ambulance since 2015, and frequently attend incidents involving trapped patients, but I had never been to an incident quite like this, or met a patient quite like Jonathan.

“I was so impressed by how stoic Jonathan and his wife, Wendy, were. This definitely helped while we devised a plan with the fire and rescue and ambulance services to support Jonathan, cut the tine and release him safely.

“I’ll never forget the sense of humour he maintained until we reached the operating theatre. It felt like treating a friend. I have been amazed by his survival and recovery, and I am so grateful to Jonathan and Wendy for visiting us, a year later. These stories sustain us and help keep us ready for the next call."

Jonathan and Wendy Willis with EEAA critical care paramedic Andy Bates and emergency medicine consultant Dr Nathan Howes.

Reunited with the team that saved him, Jonathan said:

“What happened to me was just such an unusual accident and I’m just so, so thankful that there were so many expert teams available to help me get through it. Otherwise, I’m sure the outcome could have been very different. I will be eternally grateful to everyone involved in saving my life.”