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Andrew McMenamin - Kayaking from Britain to Ireland and Back

Andrew McMenamin - Kayaking from Britain to Ireland and Back

In January last year I was working on the winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Travelling up to the mountains as a front seat passenger, we entered a new tunnel, specially built for the Olympics and open only to official vehicles.  As we went through the tunnel a large black Audi SUV drifted out of its lane and into ours.  Collision was inevitable and I only had time to glance towards the driver before the world went black.

When I came to, I was still in the front seat of the car and it was obvious that we had been in a huge crash.  The next six days passed in something of a blur, while I was cared for in a Russian hospital, with my right arm and left leg immobilised with an external fixator – a kind of scaffolding that went through my limbs. I can remember being brought into two different wards, and moved around for various scans. However, it seems that in Russia, nursing care is predominantly taken on by the family; consequently food is poor, water seemed rare and personal hygiene was more or less non-existent. 

Arriving at St George’s hospital was a tremendous relief, and it was only here that I began to understand how extensive my injuries were.  I had both bones in my right forearm broken, nasty comminuted fractures that looked very bad on the X-rays;  like a chicken carcass that had been smashed with a hammer.  Additionally I had broken 8 ribs, my sternum and punctured my right lung.  My left leg had been dislocated and my thigh bone had smashed through my hip socket, leaving fragments of bone in the joint. Despite all this, my most seriously life-threatening injury was none of these things.  What was really serious was a large pulmonary embolism (PE) – a blood clot, in normal terms, that had formed in my hip and passed up and through my heart and was now sitting ominously over my lungs. If it had broken apart there was a strong chance of it blocking my air passages and suffocating me to death.

I spent 6 weeks in St. George’s hospital, and I can say for sure that the staff there saved my life. Not just the world class doctors, surgeons, anaesthetists and theatre staff who operated on me, but the blood team who thinned the PE with careful medication, the nurses who made sure I was cleaned and got rest, the catering staff and dieticians who made sure I was properly fed so that I could heal, the pain team who ensured that I was not left screaming in agony, the chaplains  and the careful and painstaking work of the therapists – physiotherapists, occupational therapists, hand therapists and hydrotherapists who worked patiently with me while I was in hospital and for months and months afterwards as an outpatient. Despite an obviously heavy workload, the staff treated me well.  Consultants, carers, cleaners: all took an interest.

In a time when the NHS seems to attract a lot of negative publicity I want to raise awareness and a little bit of money for the ward that kept me for six weeks, and the therapies department that got me back to full fitness over six months. I can’t imagine what it all would have cost – hundreds of thousands of pounds, I imagine – but I never had to worry about whether or not I could afford it.  As a fit and healthy person in my forties, I hadn’t had much need of the health service, but when I needed it, it was there; world class care.  So now that I have been restored to health I want to combine a personal challenge with a desire to give back and to say thank you.  To that end I plan to kayak from Ireland to Britain and back again and I hope this will prove to myself that I am healed and thank the NHS for healing me.

If you're interesting in fundraising for St George's like Andrew please get in touch by contacting us at giving@stgeorges.nhs.uk or call 0208 725 4522


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