A man who fell 200 feet from a cliff top in Lewis has made an emotional return trip to the island to thank all those who helped him survive.
But music executive Andy Godfrey was not able to track down everyone who provided him with care, and has turned to welovestornoway.com to make sure everyone involved in his life-saving care knows of his gratitude.
Londoner Andy is a regular visitor to the Western Isles, often staying with friends Pete Edwards and Fiona Rintoul at their home in Rhenigadale in Harris.
It was on one such visit at Easter this year that he, his wife Giulia Hetherington and their friends decided to take a long walk from the road end at Breanais in Uig, following a cliff-top path that Pete knew well.
Andy recalls: “We had only been walking for about 20 minutes and were already lagging behind because we had stopped to take pictures and reduce our layers of clothing. I just remember saying: ‘We’d better get moving’ and at that point I must have stepped away from the path.
“I remember slipping, grabbing at a bit of heather and then literally falling through space. I felt like my mind then said: ‘You don’t want to watch this’ and I blacked out.”
Andy regained consciousness to find himself at the bottom of a steep slope, with another 30 feet to fall onto rocks below him if he had not stopped tumbling. He believes he must have rolled and tumbled down the slope, although nobody actually saw it happen. By the time he came round his friend Pete was leaning over the cliff shouting his name.
“I answered ‘yes’ and Pete said ‘thank God – are you bleeding? Keep still, help is coming.’
“The first thing I thought was literally ‘where am I?’ I realised that I had fallen and thought I should get up, then found that I couldn’t. I just lay there feeling things hurt –it even hurt to breathe.”
Andy now knows that his friend Fiona had sprinted back towards the car to get a signal on their phone and call for help. In the car park she found a motor caravan from which Rob – a mountaineer and first aider who happened to be out the same day – immediately offered to help.
“He and Pete found a precarious route down to where I was and Rob stopped the bleeding from my head. Then everyone started to arrive – the police and the search and rescue helicopter. Winchman James Lyne was winched down to me, assessed my condition and put a collar on me.
“I was strapped into a rigid stretcher and lifted to the helicopter, then taken to Western Isles Hospital. For most of the time I was pretty stunned and confused so I can’t tell you exactly who looked after me or what happened.”
At Western Isles Hospital Andy was in the care of Dr Tom Mallison, now a GP at Langabhat practice. He assessed Andy’s condition, dealt with the immediate concerns and arranged for a scan.
“I had a small skull fracture and had cracked every single rib and my breastbone – so I wasn’t imagining it, it really did hurt to breathe. My shoulder really hurt, but that was just bruises. Amazingly I hadn’t broken either arms or legs, although I was covered with cuts and grazes.”
Andy spent the night in Intensive Care, looked after by nurses Kristine, Erica and Amy. He says: “Their kindness and care helped me through a really difficult night – I was really scared and they looked after me so well – all I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you.”
But the scan the next day brought worse news – one of his vertebrae had split completely in two, with one sharp fragment just millimetres from his spinal cord and another perilously close to his aorta – the biggest artery in the body.
Andy knows how lucky he was: “I could have been paralysed if the vertebrae had affected my spinal cord and I could have died if it had pierced my aorta. I felt like a time bomb ticking and, although I was trying to be cheerful and upbeat for my friends and for Giulia, I was on a knife edge over what might happen.
“As soon as the scan showed what had happened they knew they couldn’t deal with it. I was flown over to Glasgow on the emergency plane and over the next weeks underwent surgery to stabilise my spine, with concerns about my heart going on at the same time.”
Amazingly, Andy went on to recover quickly and completely, returning to work at his London publishing company just six weeks later. He’s now under outpatient care in London and has been told his spine is stable and healed, putting him completely out of danger.
And it was with that news that he headed to Lewis in October to meet up with the people who had helped him – dropping in at Western Isles Hospital first of all.
“The people on reception greeted me with: ‘Oh, you’re the man who fell off the cliff!’ I got to see and thank Dr Tom but unfortunately Amy, Erica and Kristine were on a different shift, so I missed them.
“I want to make sure everyone knows how grateful I am – the nurses and medical staff, the helicopter crew and winchman and the police who attended – one of the officers even took my hire car back to Stornoway.
“My feeling about this island is that everyone takes care of each other and, although I am an outsider, that’s what they did for me. I felt very included and looked after. It’s extreme hospitality, which is what the islands are famed for.
“There are fantastic services which we have got around us. They are there when you need them. You pick up the phone and they show up. There’s no other way I can express it – just thank you to everyone who helped me.”
Pictures show Andy Godfrey walking in the Western Isles before his fall, his position after the fall (taken from the Coastguard helicopter) and a selfie in hospital after his accident. (Andy Godfrey).