A teenager has been reunited with one of the RAF “superheroes” who flew him by helicopter for life-saving surgery as a newborn.
Luke Atherton, of Leigh, Wigan, Greater Manchester, was starved of oxygen at birth and needed treatment at a specialist hospital in Leicester.
His father Duane Atherton tracked down the paramedic winchman who took him, Mark Vickery, and he was a surprise guest at Luke’s 18th party.
Luke said it was amazing to thank him.
‘Never shuts up’
The superhero fan was baffled by one of his father’s guests until all was revealed at the end of the birthday party at Stubshaw Cross Labour Club, Wigan, on Friday evening.
Before introducing Sqn Ldr Vickery, Mr Atherton told party-goers: “Not all superheroes wear blue spandex and a cape – these guys are real heroes and they really can fly.”
When Luke was born on 8 March 2000 at Warrington Hospital, he did not make a sound or cry, he said.
“In the womb Luke had taken a deep breath in and swallowed something… [meconium aspiration syndrome] scorching the lining of his lungs so he could not absorb oxygen.
“Doctors told me he probably wouldn’t survive and even if he did he would be severely disabled.”
The RAF helicopter crew based in Hull – consisting of Capt David Kenyon and Sqn Ldr Vickery – took Luke at four hours old to the ECMO (extra corporeal membrane oxygenation) unit at Glenfield Hospital while his father drove down.
“We stayed down there for about four weeks and eventually he did cry. Now he never shuts up,” Mr Atherton said.
Even at six months Luke’s parents had to carry oxygen in his pram, but his father said the law student made a miraculous recovery.
Luke said it was an “incredible night”.
“Without Mark I wouldn’t be here today. I’m amazed to be able to say thank you to the man that saved my life.”
Sqn Ldr Vickery made a six-hour drive from his current base in Lydd, Kent, to attend the party. Captain Kenyon was unable to go as he was on duty but has invited Luke to his Caernarfon base where he is now chief pilot.
Sqn Ldr Vickery said it was “emotional” being reunited with Luke.
“We always see people at their worst but rarely meet them when they are better or recovering,” he said.
“All the stars were aligned for Luke on that night. It’s a great feeling to know [he] made a full recovery and is here celebrating his 18th birthday in good health.”