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Archie’s Story

In 2014, 18 year-old Archie took a shoulder to his head during a school rugby match. Feeling drowsy and light-headed, Archie’s condition quickly deteriorated. Now six years on, Archie shares his story of injury and recovery, having recently completed a 220km cycle from Somerset to London, raising a fantastic £1,410 for our charity.

‘I was playing rugby during the last year of school for the first team at Radley College, close to Oxford. We were playing arguably the biggest game of the season against our rivals, Abingdon. I was eighteen at the time and I remember the game being a big deal – the ‘big game’ against our closest school rivals.

With about ten minutes to go, and only three points from drawing even, I chased the ball up to the defensive line and got into a very awkward position, my head was quite low and I took a shoulder directly to the head. It was not a malicious tackle, just an unavoidable collision – and, at the time, it did not seem anything out of the ordinary.

I felt drowsy and light-headed. It was not immediately clear how serious the collision was, I was just trying to keep my mind focused on the game.

After the game finished- which we unfortunately lost – we had our team huddle. I explained to my mate I felt unwell. Thinking nothing of it, I took myself across to the far end of the pitch to compose myself where I was eventually sick. I had thrown up a couple times from sport in the past due to exhaustion where I had pushed myself too hard, so I thought this was no different.

From this point on I do not remember all the details, but I suddenly collapsed. Fortunately, we had a regular paramedic attend the first team matches. He was able to help me toward a bench where he began treating me.

I was going in and out of consciousness and felt absolutely exhausted. I remember seeing my dog run toward me. I love my dog and hadn’t seen her for a few weeks, she was so excited to see me and I distinctly remember not being able to appreciate she was there because my body was so tired and almost a dead weight. My parents, grandparents and my two brothers had witnessed the whole thing and were very worried. No one really knew what was going on, they just saw me slowly and progressively get worse.’

The paramedic quickly recognised the severity of the situation. Suspecting Archie had suffered a brain injury, the paramedic requested support form our critical care team. In minutes, our doctors and paramedics were dispatched by air ambulance to Archie’s side.

‘I personally felt like I was confidently handled by the initial paramedic and – while I do not remember much from this point – I know the air ambulance crew very much took control of the situation.

From my point of view, their treatment was very smooth, and it put me at ease. I never felt worried, perhaps because I did not recognise the severity of the situation, but they also reduced the worry of those around me.

The next thing I remember, I was leaving the air ambulance at the hospital, I do not remember the journey there at all. ‘

A CT scan showed Archie had suffered from a subdural haematoma, a type of bleeding in which a collection of blood – usually associated with a traumatic injury – gathers on the brain. Doctors had planned to undertake emergency surgery.

‘While I was waiting for emergency surgery, I remember coming back to consciousness and being able to speak. I became more myself and was able to hold basic conversation. At this point the consultant decided against the emergency surgery, as it carried a high risk and instead waited to assess my situation.

Thankfully, I got better over the next couple of days, despite having serious headaches and double vision. I had a lower risk keyhole surgery to remove excess blood between my brain and skull a week later.

It took a year before I felt ‘normal.’ It was proposed that I might have to re-do the last year of school because I had missed a fair chunk of time and had my A-Levels to revise for. I initially felt exhausted, I couldn’t really concentrate and found it difficult to focus. However, I did enough to get into Exeter University – a great university, so I was really pleased.

I wanted university life to be as normal as possible, I did not want anyone to treat me differently or think the injury was affecting me adversely. Because it’s an invisible injury, I had a perception that if I couldn’t do something, people wouldn’t understand why as they didn’t know the history – so this actually pushed me to work harder and achieve more. I didn’t want to concede to something being difficult for me.

Now, I feel like I am back to 100% and able to get on with my life normally. I can no longer play rugby but I accept this is a small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things as the implications could have been so much worse. ‘

Archie is no stranger to fundraising, having completed a sponsored ‘dreadlock shave’ for Thames Valley Air Ambulance in 2017. Spurred on by a new found cycling hobby, Archie decided to turn his attention to a new challenge during lockdown this summer; a 220km cycle from Somerset to London.

‘I actually only took up cycling when I came home to Somerset at the start of the coronavirus lockdown! My dad has always loved his cycling and I had decided to join him for our daily exercise in the evening. After a couple 100km journeys, I made an almost impulsive decision to do the challenge. I knew I wanted to push myself and raise funds for the air ambulance and this seemed like a great opportunity.

The challenge saw me cycle from Somerset to London, a total of 220km and about eight hours in the saddle. Bizarrely, perhaps the biggest challenge was the 25 degree heat and clear skies – I have quite pale skin so I was constantly stopping to apply sun cream and re-hydrate!

My best friend joined me for the last section of the journey, he was there when I suffered the initial injury so crossing the finish line was a significant moment for both of us. I was really spurred on by the occasional friend driving past, waving and shouting like cheerleaders but – more importantly – by receiving donation alerts from my JustGiving page knowing that more and more money was being raised for the charity.’

I’m extremely grateful that people chose to donate that toward my fundraising – especially during these times.

‘I want to say a huge thank you to those who supported me. People work hard for their money; £10, £20 or £30 is a decent chunk of a daily wage and I’m extremely grateful that people chose to donate that toward my fundraising – especially during these times. It demonstrates to me that they understood how significant my injury was, and they recognise what an important part the air ambulance did to support me and my recovery.

I would also like to say a huge thank you to Thames Valley Air Ambulance for their work that day. It is a shame I’m unable to remember the exact treatment, because I know the doctors and paramedics would have been doing important work – I believe that they are the reason I did not have the major surgery that night. I’m incredibly grateful, and I know all of my family and friends are too.’