Fighting back after fateful stumble

A brush with death inspired one Yorkshire farmer to plough up funds for a vital life-saving charity, as Lucy Oates found out.


One fateful Friday evening in August 2012 is a night that East Yorkshire farmer John Bird will never forget. As he inspected a piece of farm machinery used for sowing oil seed rape, he was dragged into its rollers and suffered horrific injuries.

Astonishingly, just 16 months on, he has made a miraculous recovery and raised a massive £13,000 for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, which he credits with saving his life that day.

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John recalls that he was rushing to get to a meeting on the evening of the accident, when he received a call from a contractor working on one of the fields close to where he farms at Leven, near Beverley.

He said: “He’d run out of feed for the field so I whipped a bag down to him. While I was there I had a look at the machine to make sure it was working properly. I stumbled on a lump of soil and, instead of falling back, I fell forwards into the machine and it grabbed my right leg and then my left.”

Thankfully, John’s colleague saw what was happening and managed to turn the machine off just in time to stop his torso and arms from being dragged into it.

The Yorkshire Air Ambulance was called out and, after being given pain relief and placed on a spinal board, John was rushed to Hull Royal Infirmary, where he was treated for a broken pelvis, internal bleeding and bruising.

He had an emergency operation to put his right leg back in its socket and, at that point, was told that he had a 25 per cent chance of keeping his leg. He had to undergo further surgery the following Wednesday.

John said: “My leg had been pulled away from the hip joint, and I also tore the ligaments and nerves in my back, which caused the worst of the pain; it was excruciating.

“When the accident was happening, I could feel my legs crunching in the machine, yet they didn’t actually break, which is amazing.”

Despite the horrific nature of the accident and severity of his injuries, today John is, in his own words “99.9 per cent recovered”. He spent two weeks in hospital and months in a wheelchair, but swimming helped him to build up his strength.

He explained: “I wasn’t allowed to put weight on my legs, so I did a lot of swimming to keep fit and lost a bit of weight.”

Last December, when John’s physiotherapist encouraged him to try putting a little bit of weight on his legs, he astonished those around him by standing up and walking. John said: “It’s incredible; I’d never have believed that you could go through such a thing and end up as I am. I told the surgeon that he is a true miracle worker for saving my legs.

“Hull Royal Infirmary was fantastic; the staff were amazing.”

Like many people, John had assumed that the Yorkshire Air Ambulance received some form of government funding. In actual fact, it’s a charity providing a life-saving rapid response emergency service to around five million people across Yorkshire. It operates two helicopters; one is based on the Nostell Priory Estate, near Wakefield, and the other at RAF Topcliffe, near Thirsk. Both are on call seven days a week all year round, and the charity relies entirely on donations from the public to cover their running and maintenance costs.

John added: “Until I had to use it myself, I didn’t realise that it’s 100 per cent funded through donations. It’s such an important service and I know quite a lot of people who know someone who has needed it.”