‘My son nearly died after rugby accident’

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THE mother of a teenager who almost died after a rugby accident has thanked the medic who saved him by performing emergency surgery on the pitch with a kitchen knife.

When spectator Bob Coupe _ who happened to be an A&E medic – realised that Tom Carus could not breathe properly he took a kitchen knife and cut into Tom’s chest.

“It was Tom’s first match of the season at Stonyhurst College,” said his mother Sarah, who lives in Leyland. “He was tackled and in a freak accident he dislocated his shoulder but it ripped off his innominate artery.”

The innominate artery carries blood from the heart to the right side of the the neck and head and the right shoulder and arm.

Bob said: “I listened to his chest with a stethoscope and he had no air going into his lungs on his right side.

“There was a huge swelling coming up behind the top of his sternum at the bottom of his neck and he was beginning to lose consciousness.

“He was getting worse and worse, it was a horrible situation and as he was losing consciousness it became clear that he was dying.”

Each time Tom took in a breath, instead of the air going into his lungs, it was going outside his lungs, collapsing them.

“Initially I put a cannula in his chest but in the end I had to make a hole in his chest with a kitchen knife to release the air and decompress the pressure.

“It’s like when you burst a balloon and all this air comes out.

“It was one of the most horrible things I’ve ever been involved with.”

When Tom was transferred into the Air Ambulance, medics helped him to breath by putting a tube down this throat – a build-up of blood was squashing his windpipe.

“Because his blood supply to his brain had been cut off, Tom had essentially had a stroke,” Bob added.

Mum Sarah, who was in Ireland at a horse sale when she got news of what had happened said: “Tom nearly died on the pitch. His heartbeat had dropped to 10 beats per minute.”

Tom was airlifted to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, where he had open-heart surgery to repair his artery.

The next morning, in an induced coma, he underwent five hours of brain surgery where doctors removed part of his skull in an operation called a craniotomy to expose the brain.

He then spent three weeks in intensive care at the Neurological Critical Care Unit at Hallamshire.

Although at first doctors had warned that he might be left with severe brain damage Tom has recovered remarkably well and Sarah says he is exactly the same mentally as he was prior to the accident.

Tom will never be able to play rugby again but he is keen to pick up another sport and wants to go back to finishing his A-levels when he is well enough.

Sarah said: “The injury he sustained is extremely rare and it was a miracle Bob was watching another match on the next pitch. Bob was selfless and brave and we will be grateful to him for the rest of our lives.

“Tom has always had a wonderful attitude and zest for life and everyone who knew him knew that if anyone could pull through this horrific, freak accident, Tom could.

“He has had some incredibly tough times. He has undergone open heart surgery, brain surgery, been in an induced coma, developed pneumonia and became frighteningly weak after a long time in intensive care. It took three attempts to get him off the incubator so he could breathe for himself and they were extremely worrying times.

“He has had to deal with having to learn to walk, struggling with his speech, swallowing, extreme fatigue and weakness to his left side. He has never complained and his determination and positive attitude have been inspirational and his recovery has astonished everyone.

“We are incredibly proud of Tom and his brother who together with our friends and family and been a wonderful support to Tom and ourselves.”

Following the accident Sarah, Tom’s dad Dicken and his 18-year-old brother Ben were surrounded by the love and support of family and friends.

Tom’s teachers, school friends and their parents all rallied to do what they could for the Carus family.

His team-mates, under their own initiative, walked down to the rugby pitch to pray for Tom the day after his accident.

For a week Stonyhurst students did not play rugby and at the first match back all of the team and their coach wore shirts with Tom’s number 12.

The Caruses received messages of support and prayers from all over the world including video messages from young people Tom visited at a children’s home in South Africa whose singing and dancing made a huge impression on him whilst on a rugby tour earlier that year with Stonyhurst.

At the other end of the spectrum Tom, a keen Arsenal fan, received a video message from player Alexi Sanchez and a letter from manager Arsene Wenger.

The team also baked cakes to sell at matches to parents with the help of Michelle Hayhurst, one of the catering staff at Stonyhurst, and raised £1,220 for the Yorkshire Air Ambulance. Michelle is also doing a parachute jump in March for the Air Ambulance.

At a coffee morning at home for friends and family the Caruses raised £1,120 for the Neurological Critical Care Unit at the Hallamshire Sheffield. They have also raised raised £500 for the Bleasdale Ward at The Royal Preston.

l To donate to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, go to yorkshireairambulance.org.uk/donatey.