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Fighting back from the brink of death

PUBLISHED: 05:12 20 January 2003 | UPDATED: 16:12 24 February 2010

A FORMER soldier who lay in a coma for three weeks and was given the last rites by a priest after an horrific accident at Ipswich Port has spoken for the first time about his of his ordeal.

A FORMER soldier who lay in a coma for three weeks and was given the last rites by a priest after an horrific accident at Ipswich Port has spoken for the first time about his of his ordeal.

David Gammell, 21, suffered four broken ribs and head injuries when he plunged 40ft between two containers at Ipswich Port on 8 November last year.

The accident caused swelling so severe in his head that it was forcing an unacceptable amount of pressure on his skull.

So much so, in fact, that this his skull is now in pieces – with part of it being held on ice ready for an operation later this year.

With a cheeky smile, David places his hand up to his head and gestures.

"You see, it moves. There's no skull here on the right hand side at all," he said.

"It's on ice waiting for the swelling to go down and then hopefully if it survives without blood around it, they'll be able to put it back on again If not, it will have to be metal or plastic instead."

"At the moment my brain is surrounded by silicon to support it, and with a bit of luck they will be able to go ahead with an operation in May to get things a bit more back to normal," he explained.

"I could get really angry about it all – especially with the headaches, because they're incredibly painful – but there's no point. I just have to get on with living my life and make the most of every day."

Formerly in the Army, David has always loved football and has lived a very physical life in which he never had to restrict himself or his activity.

"I'd only been out of the Army for six weeks and the last four years of that life had kept me very fit and healthy.

"In a way that's made it even harder to cope with all this, because I think about the things I used to be able to do – but then again, the hospital staff seem to think it's been a big advantage in how quickly I'm managing to recover.

"They say I've moved on far quicker than they ever expected me to. That's not bad for someone who died twice and was administered the last rites is it?"

After the accident, he was transferred from Ipswich Hospital to Addenbrooke's in Cambridge.

He remained there for three weeks, in a coma throughout. The time in Addenbrooke's included an operation in which the 21-year-old 'died' on the operating table.

After that, he returned to Ipswich on 26th November where he spent a further two weeks aiding his own recovery. He was allowed to make his first supervised visit home on 16th December.

Now back at home permanently, Dave must keep regular appointments to keep sight of how his head and his ribs are healing.

It is hoped that his operation on his skull will take place in May.

He has since been told by medical staff, and by his family that he effectively had to be brought back to life, firstly in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and then again on the operating table.

His diagnosis was initially branded a 'Number Four' – the most bleak prognosis for a patient which, according to David, usually results in death.

Apart from his obvious head wound, his slow and unsteady walk, and his constant need to avoid exertion, there are other hurdles which he must overcome.

He admits that he is suffering physically, mentally and psychologically and the full extent of the damage may not be known for some years.

"I had to completely learn to walk again after the accident," he said bravely.

"Even now I'm very slow and sluggish and I can't do anything like what I used to. It's the left side in particular.I hit the right side, which means the left side has suffered.

"I also find that my vision is bad. Not only do I get really bad migraines, but I can't see well beyond what's straight in front of me. One of my eyes popped out because of the pressure on the brain, so I think that's why the eyesight has been so badly affected."

He admitted he gets angry at the restrictions he no has on his life.

"I used to play football for Ipswich Athletic and for the Belstead Arms team. Football was my life.

"Now they say I might never be able to play – because one hit from the ball on to my skull, or a fall, or a coming-together with another player could kill me."

Amazingly it is David's friends and family who he considers the real heroes.

He said: "I couldn't have got through all this without the love and care of my family. They've been amazing. They sat by my bedside for hours and some slept there. Some had travelled from across the UK.

"My twin brother had even said that no matter what state I was in, he was prepared to look after me for the rest of my life. That's just so nice to know."

He added: "I also want to thank all the friends who came to see me. They were fantastic. Ipswich Athletic did a collection for me, and then there's the Rosary Darts Team, The Royal Anglian Regiment, and all the people who just keep popping by to wish me well.

"The nursing staff were fantastic too, and I owe so much to them. At one point there was someone there at my bedside for every minute of the day and night.

"I feel really lucky to know that all this people care for me."

Luck, one can only hope, will remain on David's side as he continues his fight for a full recovery.

In the meantime, he remains so remarkably upbeat that anyone hearing his story can only feel so truly and completely humble.

"You know," he started, "I used to be one of those people who would occasionally lounge in bed for a few hours, and then contemplate doing something.

"Now I feel that's a huge waste. You've got to do something with your life and get up and on with things, no matter what.

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