In an emergency call 999 and ask for Police then Mountain Rescue

Meet our Supporters – Matt Woodthorpe

Meet our Supporters – Matt Woodthorpe

21st September, 2023

Having been born and raised in Yorkshire, I have had the pleasure of calling Scotland (and more specifically Stirling) home for the past 7 years. I have long had an affinity with the natural world, which led me to study Geography at university, and I now work with a small national charity supporting Scotland’s colleges and universities on sustainability issues. I have always been an active person – as a teenager I played badminton at a county and university-level, before trying other sports and challenges including race rowing, half ironman triathlons and half-marathon and marathon running distances. I also love hiking – the Highlands and the Lake District are particularly favourite areas, and I have had opportunities to do high altitude hiking in the stunning mountains of Peru and Georgia.

In November 2020 I had a freak hiking accident whilst walking alone just below the top of Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain in Perthsire. I had set off alone intending to complete the 3 Munro peaks of Beinn a’ Ghlo with perfect clear conditions forecast for the whole day.

Having just summited the second peak of the day, I descended Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain along a gentle stony path. It was the type of path that I had walked on thousands of times. I remember walking forward and my left ankle suddenly twisting. The next thing I experienced was falling to the ground, landing just a couple of metres downslope of the path. I knew quickly that I hadn’t just sustained a light ankle sprain – there was a tingling in my left leg, I couldn’t lift my left foot up and struggling to bend my knee. I could see a lump on the outside of my knee and I suspected I had broken my leg. I could see some other hikers sitting on top of the summit but they were too far to call. I pulled out my mobile phone to call for help and found there was no signal. I knew there had been a phone signal about 50m away, so I got myself up with the view to hobble with my walking poles to get a phone signal to call 999. Unfortunately, I crumbled to the ground again, unable to balance on the poles and on my good leg.  Instead, I managed to shuffle myself upslope the couple of metres to the path, dragging my injured leg along the ground. There I waited until two other hikers had descended Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain and were able to come to my help. They were a massive help in so many ways – calling the Police/mountain rescue with our coordinates and liaising with them through the rescue; speaking with my family to explain the situation; helping me get into an emergency bivvy bag; providing me with their hot drinks; and staying with me and talking until mountain rescue arrived. The help these two strangers gave me was invaluable.

Mountain Rescue helped in so many ways.  Firstly, they were responsive to the call for help and were clear on the potential options for the rescue (e.g. by foot or by air) and the timescales involved for each. This really helped me as I waited, as I framed the rescue in my mind around the longer timescale. They also communicated progress on the rescue periodically with us so I knew for example that a team were at the base of the mountains, or that a helicopter was available for use and on its way.   Once again, this really helped my morale and ensured I didn’t become too overwhelmed with the situation – I was not alone. Thirdly there was the rescue itself by the MR team by helicopter. It was immense relief to hear the sound of the helicopter and even more so to see team members coming towards me. They introduced themselves and asked me questions to help assess the situation, before doing a medical check. Unable to stand, they helped roll me on to a stretcher and carried me to the helicopter before flying to Inverness Hospital.

I was eventually moved to hospitals in Forth Valley and Glasgow to undergo specialist knee and nerve assessments and surgery. My knee had suffered a “catastrophic” knee dislocation which resulted in all four knee ligaments rupturing, the head of my fibula breaking, and the common peroneal nerve becoming damaged. Over the following 12 months I had 3 surgeries to fully reconstruct all four knee ligaments, screw the head of the fibula back in place, and to try bring back nerve and muscle control to my foot. Whilst the knee reconstruction work has been successful, the pioneering nerve surgery was unsuccessful. As a result, since the accident I have a condition known as Foot Drop with half my lower left leg remaining paralysed. However, with the use of an ankle-foot orthotic called a Turbomed combined with extensive knee rehabilitation, I am now able to undertake some of the activities and challenges I used to do.

The rescue has really given me deep appreciation for natural environments. It may sound cliché, but you never expect such an accident to happen to you – especially as what I was doing did not seem inherently risky. But, within the space of a second as I dislocated my knee, I was in a fraught situation. I have reflected that the accident could have happened in much worse places I have hiked in and the outcome could have been very different. As I go back to hiking in the mountains, I now carry more emergency first aid and an emergency trauma blanket. I hope I never have to use them for either for myself or a fellow hiker, but they will be staying in the rucksack just in case.

I decided to fundraise for Scottish Mountain Rescue because I remembered how I felt 3 years ago when I couldn’t have been more relieved and felt more supported by Mountain Rescue.  Accidents happen, and when you are in vulnerable, exposed situations, it is incredible that a team of volunteers, mostly funded by public donations and from their own pocket, will do their best to come to your aid.  Fundraising for SMR has been my way of saying thank you for the support I was given and to ensure that SMR have the resources to continue to support people who need their help.

I chose to compete in the Castle Howard 70.3 mile triathlon in July 2023. It has been a long journey with 3 operations and nearly 3 years of rehabilitation that still goes on today.  Still,  it is  important to keep motivated and keep rehabilitating my knee and lower leg; to challenge it, and find out (safely!) what it can and can’t do. Learning to jog and run again has been a particularly hard part of the journey – everything felt very clunky and I would get severe nerve pain in my foot very quickly into a short jog. But over the course of 7 months I managed to slowly build up my capacity for running.

I was exceptionally nervous come race day! Could I make the distance? A 1.9km swim, followed by a 90km hilly cycle, finished with a trail half-marathon. The weather on the weekend was terrible – a forecast yellow warning for rain proved reliable, with plenty of surface water pooling on parts of the cycle route. As a result, as all of the race participants huddled together for a 7:30am race briefing, we were informed the cycle part of the race would not go ahead. Instead, the event would become the 1.9km swim and a very muddy half marathon.

3hrs 22m after setting off, I made it across the finish line. There were some tears as I passed a big milestone for me getting back to experiences and pursuits I would do before my accident. And they were tears of gratitude – for the help, support and backing of strangers from fellow hikers, SMR, a whole range of NHS staff, friends, family and colleagues. Getting over the line was for me and them.

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