Highlands & Islands

Mum of Applecross sepsis death teen raises funds for helipad

Bethany Walker Image copyright Heather Teale
Image caption Bethany Walker was 18 when she died

The mother of a teenager who died from sepsis is raising funds for an emergency helicopter landing pad in her Highlands community.

Heather Teale's daughter Bethany Walker, 18, from Applecross in Wester Ross, died in January last year.

Bethany was flown to hospital in Inverness in 34 minutes after she became severely ill. The journey by road could have taken two hours.

Ms Teale hopes to raise £30,000 towards the estimated £50,000 cost of the pad.

The air ambulance that flew Bethany to Raigmore Hospital was able to land in a pub car park, which was empty at the time but would normally would have been full of cars.

'Beyond devastating'

The plan for a dedicated landing site has emerged from a group of Applecross residents.

Ms Teale said local GPs along with NHS Highland and Bristow Helicopters, which operates coastguard search and rescue helicopters, have been supportive of the idea.

An area of land has been identified, but the final cost of the project has still to be calculated. There are few places for a helicopter to land at the village and even a potentially suitable flat area near Applecross Bay is packed with tents in the tourist season.

Bethany, who was suffering from flu-like symptoms when her health deteriorated, was a former Plockton High School pupil. She was on a year out from further education and was planning to study midwifery in Aberdeen.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Getting to Applecross by road can involve negotiating the Bealach na Ba mountain pass

Ms Teale, who has started a JustGiving crowdfunding campaign, praised the efforts of air ambulance personnel in trying to save her daughter's life.

She told BBC Scotland: "Bethany was airlifted with me by her side, but tragically did not survive. I would hate for anyone else to suffer as we are. It is beyond devastating.

"I have seen first hand the necessity for the air ambulance to have a suitable and safe place to land, and the excellent care given by the helimed paramedics.

"This service is absolutely vital to a community such as ours. Applecross is a remote peninsula in Wester Ross accessed by poor quality single track roads."

'Cannot waste fuel'

The village on the west Highland coast is 80 miles (129km) and more than a two hours by road from Inverness.

The shortest route into Applecross involves negotiating the Bealach na Ba, a mountain pass that rises to about 626m (2,053ft) over about four miles (8km).

The alternative involves a 25-mile (40km) coastal road.

Journey times can be longer in summer due to tourist traffic and also in winter when the weather is bad.

Ms Teale, who also hopes to raise awareness about sepsis and the work of the UK Sepsis Trust charity, said a dedicated landing site was desperately needed.

She said: "The air ambulance has to travel from Inverness to get here, and can only carry sufficient fuel for the journey and the transfer to hospital.

"It cannot waste fuel circling looking for a safe place to land."

What is sepsis?

Sepsis, also known as septicaemia or blood poisoning, is the body's reaction to an infection.

It starts with an infection that can come from anywhere - even a contaminated cut or insect bite.

Normally, your immune system kicks in to fight the infection and stop it spreading.

But if the infection manages to spread quickly round the body, then the immune system will launch a massive immune response to fight it.

This can also be a problem as the immune response can have catastrophic effects on the body, leading to septic shock, organ failure and even death.

Sepsis needs to be spotted and treated quickly, usually with antibiotics, before it spreads.

The signs of sepsis include extreme shivering, skin mottled or discoloured and severe breathlessness.

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