Microbiologist Zoe Gunning saved by her own hospital after car crash

33-year-old never imagined that she would be one of the 350 critically ill patients flown into Southampton General Hospital's major trauma centre

Ruth Lumley
Wednesday 25 December 2013 13:03

Hospital microbiologist Zoe Gunning is used to hearing the helicopter land at her place of work.

But the 33-year-old never imagined that she would be one of the 350 critically ill patients flown into Southampton General Hospital's major trauma centre every year.

Mrs Gunning was driving to a hen weekend in London in February last year when her car suffered a burst tyre and careered off the busy M3 just north of Winchester, Hampshire.

The mother of two has no recollection of the crash, in which she suffered life-threatening injuries that left her needing to relearn simple tasks such as making a cup of tea and dressing herself.

Almost two years on, she is back at work and happy to be celebrating Christmas with her family.

Mrs Gunning, from Chandler's Ford, was airlifted to Southampton General Hospital, where she has worked for more than 12 years, after being found unconscious at the scene.

She said: "You get used to hearing the helicopter come in when you work here but never dream that one day you'll be making that journey.

"I have absolutely no memory of the crash, or the three weeks following it, but have been told by the police that my back tyre burst, causing me to lose control of my car and veer off the road, rolling several times before landing in a ditch."

Mrs Gunning suffered a serious head injury, a fractured pelvis and several broken ribs.

Doctors were most concerned about damage to her brain so she was transferred to the neurosciences intensive care unit.

Dr Andy Eynon, director of major trauma and consultant intensivist, said: "Zoe had suffered a significant head injury and we were very concerned about her.

"The trauma CT scan showed several bleeds in the brain which extended into the fluid-filled spaces.

"We needed to provide Zoe with the best medical care and allow time for the swelling and damage in her brain to settle down in order to give her the greatest chance of recovery."

After 72 hours, Mrs Gunning was well enough to be transferred out of intensive care.

"I have no memory of this time and I can only imagine what my husband, Matt, and the girls were going through - I think it's probably best I don't remember," she said.

Mrs Gunning spent 16 days on a ward before being moved to Victoria House, a specialist rehabilitation unit on the Southampton General Hospital site, to start her long road to recovery.

Although her memories from before the accident returned slowly, the effects of the brain injury were clear to see, a hospital spokesman said.

Mrs Gunning had to relearn simple tasks and without constant prompting and permanent company, she would struggle with everyday activities, he said.

She also had problems with her short-term memory and muscle strength, and her eyesight was severely affected.

But two months after the accident, with support from her family and friends, Mrs Gunning returned home to husband Matt, 33, a teacher in Winchester, and daughters Evelynne, five, and Isla, two, to continue her recovery.

She said: "When I was discharged, I couldn't walk without crutches and I didn't have the energy to do much, but I was back and forth to the hospital for intensive physiotherapy and hydrotherapy and slowly started to get stronger."

Six months later Mrs Gunning was able to drive and she began a phased return to work, and almost a year after the crash she was back to her full-time hours.

"Being back at work has been the best therapy for me. It has boosted my confidence no end and has helped me to feel normal again," she said.

"Today, I am pretty much back to my old self. I suffer from double vision as a result of the accident which is a bit frustrating when you're looking down microscopes all day. I also get headaches and have weakness down my right-hand side.

"My colleagues tell me my personality has changed a bit too, although some say for the better - as I'm a lot chattier than I used to be."

She continued: "I'm prouder than ever to work here and will forever be indebted to everyone who has helped me get back to being me.

"It has been a long journey and a tough time for my family, but I could not be more thankful for the life I now have."

Dr Eynon said: "We are delighted with Zoe's recovery and so pleased that she is back at work and able to enjoy her young family.

"The implications of a serious brain injury like this are enormous and recovery can go on for years and years - no one should ever underestimate the significance of such an injury on a patient and their families."


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