Farmer William Tait recalls his remarkable survival story after an accident on his farm almost two years ago, which saw him slipping on a wet day and getting caught in a Power Take Off (PTO), which caused serious physical damage to his chest and stomach, with broken limbs and heavy bleeding and blood loss.
Eoin Fogarty, a Consultant in Emergency Medicine and Retrieval Consultant, was part of the rapid response team that gave William early blood transfusions at the scene which was key in saving William’s life. William was patched up on the farm and taken by air ambulance to Cork University Hospital (CUH), where they managed to instigate his recovery, miraculously without any invasive surgery.
Dr Eoin Fogarty, an Emergency Medicine and Retrieval Specialist who has been based in Cork University Hospital for the last four years, explained the timeline of events and William reiterated what he could remember of the accident.
“Williams’s recollection of events is that he was on the farm working and he slipped in mud beside the rear of the tractor. He landed on the rotating Power Take Off (PTO) shaft,” Dr Fogarty explained. “This PTO transmits the tractor engine power to a shaft that spins at approximately 540 revolutions per minute. Its function is to provide kinetic power to farm equipment. William was forcefully twisted around it. Despite the initial trauma he was able to walk back to his farm house in Mawbrin, rural east Cork and raise the alarm. We were all astounded, the fact that he was 71-years-old with two previous hip replacements, that he managed to survive,” he said.
“And the thing about those machines is that they either interact with you or they don’t.” “I don't remember even getting caught,” says William of the accident. “But by then, I certainly thought my number was up because if you know those machines, you know that if you get caught, that it will probably kill you.” He explained that he somehow got up and made it to his kitchen – with two broken arms, ribs, internal bleeding and the rest – “everything got a bit of a rattle” – after standing up and turning off the PTO.
“At that moment, I could see my house about 20 yards away and as the PTO had ripped all the clothes off me, all that was really bothering me was the wonder would someone stop if they saw me because I was stark naked! When we eventually got to the kitchen, I thought if I could just stay standing, I’d have a good chance.”
"And the thing is, I had absolutely no pain at the time and I didn’t realise I was bleeding, my hand was in a bad state having nearly been ripped off – and that was the one fear I had, that the pain would kick in.”
“By 4.30pm, the first ambulance and helicopter arrived on scene – there were multiple serious injuries identified – in particular his decreased ability to breathe properly, so oxygen therapy was administered. Any deformed or broken upper limbs were placed in splints and limbs were dressed to prevent ongoing blood loss,” Dr Fogarty continued.
“At the time, we weren’t too sure what we were doing because the bones were all broken – so we were trying to see if it was a dislocated joint or a broken bone for example – so we just put everything back into shape that we thought was normal and found out that there was a lot more going on underneath that, at this point.”
“After Dr Hugh Doran (a local GP who has vast experience of prehospital critical care) arrived on scene and helped administer medicine to help to clot blood and prevent further blood loss, myself and Dr Jason Van Der Velde arrived on scene to assist with blood stock, from CUH.“ This was crucial, as it was this early transfusion which ultimately saved William's life.
“Two units of O-negative blood transfusions were given. A portable ultrasound device was used to confirm that William had serious chest injuries. A decision was made to open up both sides of William's chest and to place William under general anaesthetic so as to reduce the effort he had to make to breathe properly,” Fogarty continued.
“I can recall inserting three fingers in between the ribs and felt what seemed like liver at the time as opposed to lung tissue. This is not something you want to experience!” Shortly after, William was placed under anaesthetic, but once the paramedics arrived and they had begun treatment, William says “he was gone” though had remained awake and alert for much of the time.
“Shortly after, around 5pm, we packaged William up for transfer on the Irish Community Rapid response helicopter for transfer to CUH. An additional unit of blood was transfused into William on the 10-minute flight to Bishopstown GAA pitch which is located close to CUH. The flight was the quickest option; the alternative road trip is approximately 35 minutes. William was then transferred to a frontline ambulance for the short trip to CUH,” Dr Fogarty added.
When William arrived at CUH, his injuries were serious and extensive. CT scans showed William had nine rib fractures on the right side and six on the left, alongside a serious liver injury. He also dislocated his elbows and shoulders. He then received further blood transfusions in CUH and had multiple Orthopaedic and Plastic surgery operations to fix his limbs – including the metal plate in the right forearm and a skin graft. He spent eleven days in ICU and five days on a ventilator. He was discharged home on the 19th of May 2020. He incredibly returned to farming a couple of weeks after. Dr Fogerty says these types of farming accidents typically tend to have bad outcomes and that he can’t remember seeing a case like Williams’.
William couldn’t speak highly enough of the staff and care at CUH he received that day. “They were so good and they came to see me afterwards. And you know, there was one pretty good thing to happen out of all this, because nobody was really interested in the old farm out here before all this,” he joked. “I had two hip replacements that never budged either so I was very lucky in that way too,” he said. He still attends CUH for some follow up care in relation to some of the wounds, but he is back working. “I’m feeling very well and I’m back to work now, full time.
I won’t have the full movement in my left arm ever again, but it’s adequate and I’m very glad to have it.“ It was, Dr Fogarty says, a combination of all the care on site and at CUH, that meant William’s life was saved. “Looking back, the care William received, in his kitchen that day – blood transfusions, an ultrasound, surgical procedures on his chest, being placed under anaesthetic and attached to a ventilator courtesy of the National Ambulance Service, Irish Community Rapid, the Blood transfusion Laboratory in CUH, the volunteer prehospital doctors definitely saved his life and make me proud to be part of the HSE.”