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Surgeons’ last episode is rare insight into trauma care

Viewers who tune into BBC Two’s ‘Surgeons: At the Edge of Life’ at 9pm on Thursday (16 Dec) will get a rare glimpse behind the scenes of Addenbrooke’s busy emergency department.

In the last episode of the current series, cameras catch the moments three casualties are brought into the resuscitation area after road traffic collisions and an assault, and follow the incredible efforts to treat them – culminating in surgery.

The one-off trauma episode highlights that Addenbrooke’s is home to the largest major trauma centre in the East of England, treating over 700 of the most severely injured patients from across six counties each year.

Motorcyclist Adrian, 51, is brought into hospital in the early hours after a crash which left his abdomen impaled by a piece of metal and his arm and hand severely injured on impact with a crash barrier.

Dr Mariam Imam in resus
Dr Mariam Imam

A specialist major trauma team, led by Dr Mariam Imam, rapidly assembles to assess the external damage, a CT scan helps determine the internal damage, and ultimately he sees consultant plastic surgeons Alex Reid and Ian Grant in an effort to save his arm and hand.

Alex Reid - head and shoulders Ian Grant in theatres
Alex Reid - head and shoulders
Alex Reid
Ian Grant in theatres
Ian Grant

Next, the trauma team are on standby to receive 25-year-old Cawley who is being transferred from Colchester in an induced coma after he was assaulted in the street.

He has a bleed on the brain and the on-call neurosurgical team, with consultant Angelos Kolias and senior registrar Harry Bulstrode, are on standby to perform an emergency craniotomy. With every minute, pressure continues to grow on Cawley’s skull, risking brain damage or death.

The red phone alerts the trauma team of another incoming patient. Motorist Sarah, 39, has a broken leg and fractured c-spine after a head on collision.

With an injury that threatens the spinal cord that could leave her paralysed, Dr Sarah Hazleman and a team of trauma doctors arrange for a CT scan which reveals another priority – a shard of bone is pressing on an artery and could threaten her foot.

On-call trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, Hassan Fawi, has to act rapidly to re-set Sarah’s leg and restore the flow of blood and only then can the attention return to the fractured neck, which needs to be kept stable.

Two days later consultant orthopaedic Spinal surgeon, Doug Hay faces the challenging task of rebuilding the broken vertebrae in Sarah’s neck using a small piece of bone from her hip along with a titanium plate to secure the joint.

It’s delicate work operating close to vital blood vessels and structures like the spinal cord. Without the operation Sarah could become paralysed, but there is also a risk of causing permanent damage to the spinal cord during the operation itself.

Director of surgery, James Wheeler, said:

This is the last episode in the series and I want to thank all those staff and patients who took part and helped highlight some of the incredible work that goes on behind the scenes at Addenbrooke’s, despite the challenges we face here with Covid.

James Wheeler

“I would also like to thank Dragonfly who have produced this series for the BBC and told these stories with such passion, skill and integrity while being so mindful and understanding of the strict infection control measures in place here at Addenbrooke’s.”

CUH has the best survival rates of all major trauma centres in England, according to the Trauma Audit and Research Network. The data is publicly available from the TARN website at (opens in a new tab)