Willie Russell had returned home on a high after a fantastic holiday in New Zealand. Little did he realise that just four weeks later he’d be fighting for his life.
It was January 2010 and the UK was experiencing its most severe winter in almost 30 years. On the morning of the accident self-employed farmer Wullie said goodbye to his wife, Angela and set about his day’s work tending the cattle on their farm in the Scottish Borders. The day was bitterly cold and the recent heavy rain had caused the underground storage tank to flood. Wullie got the tractor to bring the slurry tanker down into the steading. After pumping out the tank, he decided to spread the rainwater to avoid a further trip out with the tractor later on.
The ground was frozen solid and covered in ice. As he pushed the lever across he slipped on the ice causing his shirt to catch in the partially guarded PTO shaft of the slurry tanker.
“It was that quick that I don’t really know what happened. I saw my shirt get stuck in the PTO and I thought that was it. The engine was running flat out and the force just chucked me into the air.”
Wullie’s shirt was ripped violently from his body; the friction was so great that his skin was flayed from the left side of his chest and arm. He crashed to the ground hitting the back of his head on the draw bar of the tanker as he landed. For almost an hour and a half Wullie lay unconscious on the frozen ground. By the time he regained consciousness it had started to snow.
“When I came to I was covered in snow. I saw my shirt in shreds and the state of my side and eventually realised what had happened. It was just sheer good luck that my time wasn’t up.
“The engine of the tractor was still running so I managed to drag myself into the cab out of the bitter cold. My mobile phone was in the tractor but I was in shock and unable to speak.”
Fortunately for Wullie he’d arranged to meet a supplier that afternoon. The sales rep had gone looking for Wullie when he hadn’t shown up for their meeting, and it was just chance that he heard the tractor engine running. The sales rep found William slumped in the tractor and called the emergency services.
The conditions were so treacherous that Wullie had to be airlifted to hospital in Edinburgh where he was worked on in the resuscitation unit for seven hours. His internal injuries were extensive and included a ruptured spleen, four broken ribs and damage to his lungs and kidneys. He spent four days in high dependency and was eventually allowed home from hospital ten days later.
Recuperation has been a slow and painful process for Wullie; it took seven months before he was able to return to doing any manual work and in the meantime he had to pay to bring in casual labour to do his job. Fortunately, Wullie had taken out personal accident insurance the year before which helped to ease some of the stress.
Nearly ten months after his accident Wullie has recovered from his injuries thanks to the support of his family and close friends. Although his physical scars have almost healed, the effects of the emotional trauma are still fresh and he is haunted by visions of his shirt catching in the PTO shaft.
“It was a very frightening experience and something that I’ll never forget. I still have flashbacks today and fear that I will have for the rest of my life.”
Wullie knows that he’s lucky to be alive and takes farm safety much more seriously following his accident. He’s supporting the Make the Promise campaign so that others can learn from his experience and hopes that they will make the simple changes needed to avoid similar life-changing accidents happening in the future.
“Nine times out of ten people get away with it. But it only takes that tenth time and it’s the biggest wake up call. Unless it’s happened to you no-one can comprehend what it’s like to live knowing that you’ve come that close to death.”