Leicestershire Paraglider credits local air ambulance with saving her life after near-death experience
When self-confessed adventurer Michelle Bray took to the skies with a paraglide on Friday 13 September 2019, a whole new challenge was set to unveil itself. An unexplained freak accident sent Michelle crash landing to the ground, leaving her with life-changing injuries and no memory of what happened.
Almost three years later, Michelle met Rich, the critical care paramedic who attended her rescue and helped to save her life. He helped her to fill in the gaps from that fateful day, which Michelle describes as “having the darkness lifted.”
Having experienced the thrill of a paragliding taster day in August 2019, Michelle – who’s from Ashby in Leicestershire – caught the bug and decided to sign up for an elementary paragliding pilot training course in Ashbourne, Derbyshire.
Despite the course kicking off on Friday 13th, due to bad weather cancelling the two previous days, superstition didn’t hold Michelle back, although she admits she was nervous. “I wasn’t feeling very confident, because I was the only person on the course who didn’t have any previous experience or training,” she recalls.
Nevertheless, the conditions were good, and the group set out at 9am for their maiden flights before breaking for lunch ahead of the afternoon session. As the last trainee to fly that afternoon, Michelle had witnessed the weather change, the gate had been moved further up the field.
“I took off, but I can’t tell you much after that. All I remember is having a 10-second glimpse of knowing something horrific was happening but not knowing what,” Michelle says. “Suddenly, people were running across the field towards me and there seemed to be panic on everyone’s faces.”
Witnesses saw Michelle collide with the ground at speed, causing serious and life-threatening injuries. She sustained 25 fractures mainly to the left-hand side of her body, including her ribs, hip, pelvis, femur, and ankle. Her back was broken in three places, her arm was so badly damaged it needed to be completely rebuilt, and she suffered two bleeds to her brain.
The crew from Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance (DLRAA) attended the scene in just 12 minutes and found Michelle in a critical condition, drifting in and out of consciousness.
Recognising that her life was in danger, they treated Michelle by giving her advanced pain relief and saline solution, packaged her, and then transported her to the waiting helicopter, airlifting her to the major trauma centre at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital.
“I remember coming round four days later and being told I’d been in an accident, and my first question was ‘what accident?’ I have no recollection of it at all,” Michelle says. “I was in hospital in Sheffield for three weeks and then I was transferred to Leicester Royal Infirmary. My next of kin were told I’d never get back the full use of my arm.”
However, Michelle refused to accept the gloomy prognosis. With her therapy and rehabilitation put on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic, she vowed to get herself back on the road to recovery. She would walk for an hour a day during lockdown, each time pushing her physical boundaries a little more and walking that bit further every day.
Now, three years on from the accident, she has defied medical expectations. Not only can Michelle walk, run and hike – albeit at a slower pace than before – but she recently took on the incredible challenge of climbing in the Alps getting to 3300mts at Dent du Geante. to raise money for the Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance.
“It was a week-long expedition, and I was aiming to raise £1,700 because that’s how much it costs to airlift one person by air ambulance,” Michelle explains.
“It was a promise I made from the word ‘go’ that when I was fit and the world had re-opened after Covid, I would give back. The air ambulance came to save me when I needed them, so I wanted to do something to help them.”
Michelle credits the crew who attended her accident with saving her life, along with a higher power – having suffered a near-death experience on that day and being told she had to go back (to her life).
Back in July, she was able to reunite with critical care paramedic Rich, who was on board for her rescue mission.
Michelle gave Rich a copy of her book, Falling from the Sky, a self-penned account of life and recovery after her accident. In return, Rich was able to talk Michelle through the events of that momentous day, filling in gaps and explaining how and why she ended up with the horrific injuries that could have killed her.
In doing so, Rich eased a heavy burden Michelle has been carrying since the incident. “I can’t put into words how awful it is to have your body smashed to pieces and to undergo years of recovery, yet never know what happened,” she says.
“I spent a few hours with Rich and went away feeling 10 tonnes lighter. He remembered everything about my accident, and to be able to talk to him and get all the information I’d been missing was incredible. He was able to help me put the pieces together and lift that darkness.”
Michelle has already raised a brilliant £685 and is now the face of DLRAA’s latest Christmas Appeal which lands with supporters on 25 November, where she is encouraging people to donate to the charity which saved her life.
For more information or to donate to the appeal, visit: theairambulanceservice.org.uk/your-local-air-ambulance/christmas-appeal