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Paramedic Reunites with Newborn Saved 18 Years Later

March 13, 2018

Luke Atherton was just 4 hours old when he met HM Coastguard Paramedic Winchman Mark Vickery for the first time on a Royal Air Force helicopter flight that saved his life. On March 9, 2018, Mark surprised Luke at his 18th birthday when they were reunited after Luke’s father Duane began his own mission to find the crew that saved his son’s life.

When Luke was born, doctors quickly discovered he required immediate surgery and specialist care at a higher level hospital. On the March 8, 2000, in the early hours of the morning, he was transported by RAF helicopter in a life-saving flight from Warrington Hospital Maternity Unit to Leicester's Hospitals so that ECMO surgery could be performed to save his life.

Fast forward 18 years later, and Luke finally met one of the helicopter crew who saved his life that night.

The search unfolded last Monday when Corporal Gary Keegan from the RAF Careers Office in Hull received a phone call from Duane Atherton asking if he could help him find the RAF helicopter crew that helped save his son.

With only the date and time, and the flight route, Corporal Keegan sought immediate help from Crewman Sergeant Nick Crofts. Sergeant Crofts made a call to HM Coastguard’s Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC), who took over from RAF Kinloss and also sent the details to the RAF’s Historic Branch.

With many helicopter crews transitioning from the RAF to Bristow, after they took over the contract to carry out HM Coastguard search and rescue (SAR) on behalf of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, an email was sent to all the HM Coastguard helicopter crews asking them to check their flight logs back in 2000 if they worked for the RAF.

What started out as looking for a needle in a haystack ended in less than two hours, when HM Coastguard hit the jackpot after receiving an email from two of their crew who flew on that night – Paramedic Winchman Mark Vickery, who works the Lydd SAR base and Captain David Kenyon, who is the Chief Pilot at Caernarfon SAR base. Meanwhile, the RAF had also received an update from their Historic Branch informing them that they’d also found the logbook of the those who’d flown on the life-saving mission.

A few phone calls later, contact was made by Mark and David and the touching story from dad Duane moved Mark to drive six hours to be a special guest of honor and surprise his son Luke 18 years later at his birthday party tonight. Sadly, David couldn’t make it, as he was on SAR duty that evening, but he is hoping to meet Luke in a few months’ time.

As Luke was celebrating his coming of age birthday at the Stubshaw Cross Club in Wigan, he was surprised to see a man walk in that he didn’t know. His surprise was understandable: The last time the two had been together, he was only a few hours old, and his life hung in the balance.

“Without Mark, I wouldn't be here today,” said Luke. “There are very few people out there that can say that they've saved someone's life – and Mark has saved many. I'm amazed to be able to say thank you to the man that saved my life. This has been an incredible night."

Duane says the reunion provided him with some much-needed closure. "It has taken 18 years to realise this reunion, but Luke finally met one of the men who saved his life that night.

“It’s difficult to express my gratitude to these brave men, thank you is not enough,” said an emotional Duane whilst watching his son meet Mark. “They will be in our hearts forever for what they did on that night.”

Speaking at the reunion Mark said: "We always see people at their worst but rarely meet them when they are better or recovering. It's emotional because you get to meet the people you've helped out. Even 18 years later, this is the best outcome we could have hoped for - all the stars were aligned for Luke on that night. It's a great feeling to know that Duane's son made a full recovery and is here celebrating his 18th birthday in good health."