When Abbie Hayes was involved in a horrific car crash last year, as a front seat passenger, she was lucky to escape with her life – and she says the fact she did was all thanks to a group of Hampshire firefighters.
Abbie, 20, was one of four people in the car when it crashed in Fleet on October 7 last year. While the others were freed relatively quickly, Abbie’s leg was trapped and it took firefighters almost three hours to extract her safely – all the time facing the dilemma of whether to amputate her leg.
Thanks to their skill, care, determination and commitment, Abbie not only arrived at hospital safely, but was also able to keep her leg.
She had broken her back, femur, elbow, hand, rib, tibia and fibula in the crash and has spent the last year wearing an ilizarov frame on her leg, which has allowed her to grow 4cm of bone which she lost in the accident.
“I don’t remember any of the crash,” says Abbie, who worked as an Assistant Bar Manager before the accident. “I’m so, so glad about that. Apparently I was conscious at the time and speaking to the firefighters. I must have shut it out since.
“I was taken straight to Southampton Hospital for spinal surgery. I remember waking up after surgery and not knowing where I was, then the whole of the next month in hospital is a bit of a blur – I don’t remember much at all. I was constantly in and out of surgeries. The care I received was exceptional, while I was gradually put back together.”
She adds: “Fleet Fire Station firefighters actually put a post up on Facebook, confirming they’d rescued us along with photos of the car, and that was my first realisation of, ‘oh my God, this actually happened’.
“They’d got everyone out of the car apart from me, then it took an extra three hours to get me out. They explained the car was basically like tinfoil crumpled around my leg and they’ve told me since they’d debated amputating my leg at the scene because they couldn’t work out how to get me out safely.
“The fact I’m here, in one piece, is amazing. I can’t thank them enough.”
Abbie spent 28 days in hospital, then a few months later, she had to spend 11 days more after an unexpected A&E trip, graduating from a wheelchair until she was able to walk with a frame for a short distance, and she’s continued her recovery from home ever since. “I was only told 9 months down the line that the risk of losing my leg was finally gone, the whole time it was always a high possibility, (within the first month it was an active consideration) but eventually the incredible doctors cleared that dread,” says Abbie.
“The frame weighs 8 or 9kg, that’s crazy bearing in mind I’m only 5ft3 and not very strong! It’s a big thing to adjust to and it was tough, mentally, coming to terms with it.
“I could also only see my family three times a week at the time, as it was still Covid, so it was nice when I was able to leave hospital.”
Ever since getting home, Abbie has wanted to plan a fundraiser to thank the firefighters who attended the call and having heard about the support we offer fire and rescue service personnel across the UK, she chose to raise funds for us.
“I actually met the firefighters again, shortly after my accident. There was a car fire near my house and the Fleet team were there,” says Abbie.
“I hobbled over to meet them, just to see if it was the same people, and one of them actually welled up when I said it was me they’d saved. He said, ‘we never get to see what happens after a call out like that’. My dad and I were crying, it was an amazing moment.
“To put faces to the names was so good. They really did save my life, if they hadn’t been so careful getting me out I would have lost my leg and quite possibly died.”
Abbie decided she wanted to push herself and walk the furthest she’ll ever have managed with the leg frame on – 5 miles.
“This walk is the least I can do. I owe them my life to be honest, so I want to be able to give them the recognition they deserve and give them something back,” Abbie adds.
She completed the walk on 15 October, to mark a year since she had the ilizarov frame on, and said: “The walk was fabulous, I ended up doing around 5.5 miles, and it was incredible to talk to the firefighters as a few of the gents came on the walk with us. I was absolutely knackered afterwards but so happy that I managed to do it and raise money for the Charity!
“After being in a wheelchair, using a walking frame, moving to crutches and then eventually walking- it has been an extremely tough year, but this was way further than I have walked since the accident.
“Please give all you can to support the firefighters who are the most incredible people I have ever met, and they don’t get enough recognition! Even the smallest donation makes an incredible difference.”
You can support Abbie’s fundraiser here.