Penny’s Story

A young driver who nearly lost her life after a serious car accident has visited Wales Air Ambulance to say thank you.


Penny Wheaton, from Morriston in Swansea, was left in a critical condition following a serious road traffic collision near the mid-Wales town of Newtown in 2016.


Penny recalls the experience in her own words: “On the 28 February 2016, just five days after passing my driving test, I purchased my very first car. I was so excited to get out there and make the most of my newfound independence.


“Just over a week later, on 7 March, I was due to attend work in Newtown where I was employed as a live-in carer for people with traumatic brain and spinal injuries. I was keen to drive myself to work for the very first time and not have to rely on public transport.


“I remember the day well. The weather was awful and my mum had pleaded with me beforehand to let her drive me to the station on this occasion. I was determined to make the most of my new car so, against my mum’s advice, I set out on the drive north.


“At 11:30am approximately, I took a left-hand bend and lost control of my vehicle. I drifted across to the opposite side of the road. I managed to steer my vehicle back to my side of the road but without enough time to avoid an oncoming lorry which struck my car at 50mph. The force of the collision sent my vehicle pin-balling across the road from side-to-side until I eventually came to a stop near an embankment. From this moment on, everything went black.”


Penny was left unconscious in the battered remains of her Nissan Micra. Little did she realise the extent of her injuries and the immediate danger she was in.


Emergency services swiftly arrived on scene and it soon became apparent Penny would require specialist medical attention. Wales Air Ambulance’s Welshpool-based aircraft was tasked to the area, arriving within minutes of receiving the call.


Critical Care Doctor Paddy Morgan and Critical Care Practitioner Sam Williams were the Flying Medics on duty that day.


Welsh Flying Medic Dr David Rawlinson said: “Paddy and Sam were able to provide an emergency anaesthetic to protect her brain from any further damage, and deliver a blood product transfusion to treat internal bleeding. These treatments are not routinely available outside of a hospital environment. By taking the emergency department to the patient, the team were able to start lifesaving treatment at the scene.”


After being cut from her vehicle and receiving lifesaving medical interventions at the roadside, Penny was loaded into the waiting helicopter.


The ailing twenty-year-old was airlifted from rural mid-Wales to the Major Trauma Centre at the Royal Stoke University Hospital. By road, the journey would have taken 2 hours but by air, it took just under 30 minutes.


Dr Rawlinson added: “Our consultant-led decision-making meant that we took her straight to specialist care in Stoke, bypassing the local hospitals. Previously, without Wales Air Ambulance, she would have been taken to the local hospital which was an hour away, and then would have required a transfer by road to Stoke. This would have further delayed Penny receiving the vital specialist care she needed.”


On arrival, Penny was wheeled almost instantly to the operating theatre where the extent of her injuries was realised.


She said: “From the very little I remember after impact, I do recall the surgeon telling me just how badly I was injured. I had broken my back in three places, my jaw, my left shoulder and cracked five of my ribs. On top of that, I also had a collapsed lung, a ruptured spleen, severely bruised intestines along with a break to the back of my skull and a bruised frontal lobe which has left me with brain damage.”


Penny underwent major surgery to save her life and improve her chances of making a full recovery.


“I spent eleven days in hospital before being discharged where a long road to recovery lay ahead. For a further three months, I was cared for by mum at home along with intensive physiotherapy to improve my mobility.”


Three and a half years on from her horrific ordeal, Penny continues to recover and says that the reason she is still here today is because of Wales Air Ambulance.


“I am able to do everything that a normal 25-year-old can thanks to the amazing emergency services who saved my life. I am walking, running and even back driving. The effects of the accident remain with me and I still find it very hard to think about what could have been. I can’t thank the Wales Air Ambulance crew enough for what they did for me. Having that advanced level of care at the roadside is truly incredible. I know that without their skills, expertise and fast response, I simply would not be here today.


“I will forever be grateful to everyone who saved my life that day and I guess the moral of the story is…Mums really do know best.”