Widowed mother praises air ambulance for saving her son’s life after ‘terrible’ New Year’s Eve crash which put him in a coma

·6-min read

A widowed mother of one has praised the heroics of the air ambulance crew that saved her son’s life after recalling the night a “terrible” collision with a car on New Year’s Eve placed him in a coma.

Communications manager Rachel Southwood, 49, was at a party just minutes from her home in Taunton, Somerset, on New Year’s Eve 2019 when she heard a commotion on the street outside.

Moments later she received a harrowing call from Avon and Somerset Police informing her that her son had been hit by a car and was now lying surrounded by revellers just a short distance from the party she was attending.

Josh Southwood, an online order picker, now 19, had been riding a motorbike when the car turned into him – hurling him through its windscreen and out the other side onto the pavement.

Josh with the air ambulance used to airlift him (Collect/PA Real Life)
Josh with the air ambulance used to airlift him (Collect/PA Real Life)

On impact, Josh suffered internal injuries, a broken bone was left protruding from his thigh and the skin from his hand was ripped off.

After two days in a coma, 11 days in hospital and years of physiotherapy, Josh is now healthy – and in celebration of Air Ambulance Week 2022, which runs from until September 11, Rachel has paid tribute to the medics that saved him.

Though Josh cannot remember the crash, his mother cannot forget any moment of the harrowing night.

“I can remember it like it was yesterday. I can relive every single second,” she said.

Rachel Southwood (Collect/PA Real Life)
Rachel Southwood (Collect/PA Real Life)

Then just 17, Josh had been riding his motorbike to see friends and was coincidentally passing near the home where his mum was attending the New Year’s Eve party.

She was aware there was something going on near her friend’s home with crowds gathering in the street.

Unbeknownst to Rachel, New Year’s revellers had amassed at the scene where Josh was lying hurt.

“I looked out of the window, saw people and knew there was something happening but not that it was my son,” Rachel said.

Josh and Rachel when he was younger (Collect/PA Real Life)
Josh and Rachel when he was younger (Collect/PA Real Life)

“(Josh) was just going to meet friends in town, it was a five-minute trip – I’d gone to see friends and had just had my first glass of champagne when the phone rang.

“When the officer told me Josh had been in a terrible accident, I immediately thought he had died. It was horrendous.

“Josh’s dad died when he was young so it’s always just been us two – we’re really close.

“Having lost his dad, I just thought – am I going to lose him too? It’s the call no parent ever wants to receive.”

Josh in hospital (Collect/PA Real Life)
Josh in hospital (Collect/PA Real Life)

Rachel had bought Josh the motorbike for his birthday and he was riding it legally on a provisional license when a car turned and collided with him.

The impact was such that the teenager was thrown through the windscreen of the car and then back out onto the road under the wheels of another car.

The driver of the car that hit Josh later received a conviction for driving without due care and attention in August 2020. He received six penalty points and a fine.

“Josh had been driving (the motorbike) for about a year,” said Rachel.

Bruising on Josh’s side from the accident (Collect/PA Real Life)
Bruising on Josh’s side from the accident (Collect/PA Real Life)

“I did spend my whole time worrying about it, but he was never a reckless child. I was confident about his driving.”

Rachel was initially taken by police escort to Taunton’s Musgrove Park Hospital, where Josh had been rushed by ambulance.

“I wasn’t allowed to see Josh, but I was told his injuries were very serious,” she explained.

“Within five minutes of him arriving at Musgrove by ambulance, it was decided to airlift him. It was touch and go.”

Josh pictured in hospital following the accident (Collect/PA Real Life)
Josh pictured in hospital following the accident (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “The air ambulance undoubtedly saved his life.”

The youngster had suffered a severe tear to his liver meaning bilirubin was leaking into his bloodstream.

He also had a ruptured spleen, serious internal bleeding, his hand had been “de-gloved” – meaning its skin was ripped off – and a broken bone in his thigh was sticking through his skin.

With Josh’s life hanging in the balance, he was airlifted to Bristol’s Southmead Hospital while Rachel was taken there by police.

Rachel visiting an ambulance depot (Collect/PA Real Life)
Rachel visiting an ambulance depot (Collect/PA Real Life)

In the air ambulance, a doctor administered a general anaesthetic, controlling Josh’s pain, breathing and heart rate while attempts were made to stop his bleeding.

Recalling seeing Josh for the first time at Southmead Hospital, Rachel said: “He was so, so badly injured and was in an induced coma. The thought that he might not survive was devastating.

“The first time I saw the consultant at Southmead, he said it wasn’t good news and Josh was very ill. But, throughout the next day, the news got better. He had stabilised.”

Josh was able to be brought out of his coma two days after the collision.

Josh recovering from his injuries in hospital (Collect/PA Real Life)
Josh recovering from his injuries in hospital (Collect/PA Real Life)

“He was very, very confused and muddled,” Rachel said.

“Mainly though, he just wanted to know where his phone was. Classic teenager.

“Josh didn’t remember most of the accident. However, some of the details came flooding back to him. He remembered one of the drunken revellers sitting on his chest, another telling him to simply get up and someone trying to pour beer into his mouth.”

A metal pin was fitted in Josh’s leg and he was sent home after 11 days in hospital.

Josh Southwood now (Collect/PA Real Life)
Josh Southwood now (Collect/PA Real Life)

After two years of physiotherapy, initially several times a week then moving to once a month, Josh is now able to walk without a limp and has been left with no lasting health issues.

In July 2020, Rachel and Josh met the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance crew who had saved his life.

“All the medical teams were just incredible; the Air Ambulance medics saved my son’s life. I am so grateful.

“I just want to make sure everyone knows what a vital role they play and give them the recognition they so proudly deserve for how they support the NHS. They really are the hidden heroes in the sky.”

Josh got to meet the crew who helped saved him (Collect/PA Real Life)
Josh got to meet the crew who helped saved him (Collect/PA Real Life)

Josh added: “The air ambulance saved my life. I’m grateful for the service being there. My leg is fine now, and my recovery was great.”

Air ambulances in the UK are supported by 21 charities and are dependent almost entirely on charitable donations.

Air Ambulances UK is the national charity supporting the lifesaving work of the UK’s air ambulance charities and organises Air Ambulance Week – to find out more visit: www.airambulancesuk.org