Monday 19 March 2018

Alton Towers rollercoaster amputee Leah Washington (18) tells how she nearly died twice on The Smiler

Leah Washington, pictured before the accident
Leah Washington, pictured before the accident

Danny Boyle

A teenager who had her leg amputated after a rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers nearly died twice while trapped in the mangled wreckage of the ride, medics have revealed.

Leah Washington, who turned 18 last month, was only saved thanks to military techniques designed to treat victims of bomb blasts and a series of emergency blood transfusions rushed to the scene.

In her first interview since she and four others were seriously injured in The Smiler crash in June, she - and the medics who treated her at the scene - described the desperate efforts to save her life.

One doctor described the rescue effort at the Staffordshire theme park as so perilous that it was like "playing Jenga with human beings".

Leah Washington surrounded by friends (Photo: Facebook/LeahWashington)
Leah Washington surrounded by friends (Photo: Facebook/LeahWashington)

And he told how Miss Washington, who lost nearly a quarter of her blood while trapped on the ride, would "definitely" have died if it been a colder day.

Miss Washington was in the front of one of the ride's carriages with her new boyfriend, Joe Pugh, when it smashed into a stationary one in front.

Read more: Alton Towers rollercoaster crash victim (17) posts inspirational picture of her recovery

It led to a complex rescue operation that took more than four hours while they were trapped at a 45-degree angle 100ft in the air above a 20ft-deep concrete pit designed to support the rollercoaster's structure.

Medics described how they saved the life of Miss Washington, from Barnsley, in South Yorkshire, while firefighters started trying to free victims from the wreckage with cutting equipment normally used for car accidents.

"It was the most complex job I've ever had to deal with, and there were some very hairy moments up there," trauma doctor Ben Clark told the Mail on Sunday.

"The rescue attempt was like playing Jenga with human beings. The carriage was hanging at a 45-degree angle and if you removed a bit of metal, all four (front row passengers) would have fallen out."

Dr Clark said Miss Washington was lucky it was a warm June day as "we would definitely have lost her" if it had been cold or wet.

Read more: Young woman seriously injured in Alton Towers rollercoaster crash has leg amputated

"If body temperature drops below 33.5C, it increases the risk of death after trauma," he said. "In Leah's case, she was losing so much blood the circulation could not hold her body temperature."

Miss Washington also recalled breaking down in tears when she saw her injury and admitted her concerns about having to take a "different path" in life.

Describing how she begged the surgeon not to tell her she had lost a limb, after her left leg was amputated above the knee, she said: "It took me a long time to look at my injury. When I did, I burst into tears."

She described seeing the other carriage in front and thinking the crash would be "like a bumper car ride".

But after the collision,she saw that those around her were injured and realised the safety bar was digging into her left leg and saw flesh on the seat in front.

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