“Most of the people whose lives we’ve helped save won’t even realise who we are. Many think we are just part of the ambulance crew,” said Dr Andy Mason.
Forty years ago, The Suffolk Accident Rescue Service was set up.
The volunteer team of doctors and critical care paramedics carry drugs, equipments and expertise above that provided by paramedics – their aim to make sure a patient survives the journey to hospital and to increase their chances of enjoying a good quality of life.
When a 66-year-old Bury St Edmunds woman was found after 30 hours trapped in the bath, the pain relief provided by paramedics proved inadequate. She had dislocated her artificial hip and needed the stronger pain relief given by a SARS doctor before she could be taken to hospital.
And when a 34-year-old woman has a seizure at the wheel and crashed her car into a tree off the A14 at Bury, it was a SARS doctor who was first at the scene. Together with another SARS doctor working on the East of England Ambulance, they helped get the seriously injured woman to hospital. She has since made a full recovery.
“We go out to the most critically injured or ill people. Its is knowing that we can make a significant difference to that person’s survival or their quality of life, that keeps us all going and dedicated to the scheme,” said Tim Daniels, 40. He is a critcal care paramedic with SARS whose full-time job is air operations manager for the East of England air Ambulance Service.
The charity costs £36,000 a year to run but is running at loss.
“The brutual reality is that we urgently need to increase our fund-raising efforts to be able to maintain and expand the service,” said Ben Hall, fund-raising officer for SARS.
Since 1972, SARS members have responded to more than 15,400 callouts – an average of more than one a day.
During the past two years it has responded to 60 incidents around Bury including those mentioned above.
Dr Andy Mason has seen more changes at SARS than most – he has been with the charity for 38 years.
“I think I may be the UK’s longest serving immediate care doctor still working on the frontline.
“In the early days going to an accident, I was probably in a much worse state than many of the people I was treating.
“When I first started the ambulance service worked on the scoop and run principle. I was always very much aware that I was the only person that would be able to administer drugs or use a defifibrilator. At one stage I was the only person carrying a mobile defibrilator in the whole of Suffolk,” he said.
When not working as senior medical officer at Newmarket Racecourse, Dr Mason is on call for SARS.
“It does interfere with your social life. I can’t just sit down and enjoy a beer or a glass of wine.
“I have been on my way home with my family when I have had to divert to a crash. They’ve sat in the car and watched while I’ve dealt with some pretty awful things.
“But I have always felt that I’m priviledged to be a doctor and I am glad to be able to give something back to society.”
Although paramedics are now better trained, there are still certain drugs, equipment and procedures that require SARS doctors – among them roadside amputations.
“Fortunately I have never had to do one but I have had people who have lost limbs in an accident while one of my colleagues had to carry out a clamshell thoralotomy where you have to cut across the chest expose the heart and perform an internal cardiac massage. It is the only way of saving a person’s life if they have been stabbed in the heart and they are more than 10 minites away from a hospital,” Dr Mason said.
Meanwhile Dr Mason’s pioneering method of getting oxygen into patients with collapsed airways during his work with SARS saw him win a national award earlier this month. It has been used to save the lives of several accident victims including Bury great grandmother Joan Goldsmith who turned 70 this year, 11 years after Dr Mason saved her life.
To make donations visit www.sars999.org.uk and if you are organising a fund-raising event for SARS contact Ben Hall at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 07591061144.