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An anniversary I will never forget | This Month’s Thoughts

It’s often difficult to remember exactly what happened last week, or what we had for dinner yesterday. But birthdays and anniversaries provide a marker in the sand for us to look back and say: “remember when?” and “look how much has changed”.

For me, a particular day in August provides that point for reflection. This year, it will be ten years since the sunny bank holiday weekend when I was crushed underneath my horse during a polo match, aged just 17.

It was the final match of a weekend tournament when I rode out on my second horse of the day: Kite. During a busy moment, Kite got caught in the back legs of another horse and lost her footing. She tripped and fell to the ground, with me still in the saddle.

I wasn’t thrown clear. Instead, we slowly toppled together. My hat came loose before I hit the ground, my head hit the floor and then the huge weight of the horse fell on top of me. With horrified spectators including my Mum watching on, I lost consciousness. My feet were still in the stirrups and my hands in the reins, as Kite desperately tried to shake me off and get to her feet. I had stopped breathing.

There was a paramedic on site for the match, but the seriousness of the accident meant that soon the Thames Valley Air Ambulance was on its way. As soon as the helicopter arrived, the crew performed an immediate chest drain on me. I had broken all the ribs down one side of my body. One rib had punctured my lung and one had punctured my liver. I was airlifted to the John Radcliffe and remained in intensive care for nine days.

By supporting this community charity, you can give people like me the very best chance of making it through the hardest day of their lives

Vanessa Whiteley

Since 2018, Thames Valley Air Ambulance crews have delivered critical care to 99 horse riders like me, giving them the best chance of survival and recovery when the worst happens. For these injured riders, the pain relief and procedures that Thames Valley Air Ambulance offers over and above a regular ambulance can make all the difference.

A quarter of all incidents (25) happened during the months of May and June, a busy time for horse riders and polo players. The charity has released these figures as they launch their Summer Raffle, which I am proud to be the face of this year. 

I still find it emotional to recall that day ten years ago. I think of that little person lying in the hospital. When we were just told to take it hour by hour. But life is very different now: I have just finished my teacher training and am getting ready to start a new job at a local school. I’m also currently busy planning my wedding to my fiancé, Ben. Without Thames Valley Air Ambulance, it could have been a very different story.

By supporting this community charity, you can give people like me the very best chance of making it through the hardest day of their lives. When I had my fall, I didn’t know if anyone would be there to rescue me. Thanks to people like you, Thames Valley Air Ambulance answered that call and gave me an anniversary I will never forget.