A teenager who suffered pain so excruciating it felt like a “bonfire in his bones" after smashing his collarbone when his bike crashed into a tree told how he was rescued from the middle of a forest thanks to a special mobile app.
Tom Allen, 15, was out cycling with his friend in Friston Forest, East Sussex, England – part of the South Downs National Park- on July 28, when a jump ended in disaster, after he misjudged the distance, hurtled into the air and collided with a tree.
Realizing his injury was serious, he called an ambulance, but, when he could not provide a specific location, paramedics instructed him to download the what3words app on his phone, providing a three word address for his location, which helped them to find him within 45 minutes.
Tom, of Seaford, East Sussex, whose frantic mom Lorna, 52, a charity worker, also found him using the app, recalled:
“I have a full suspension mountain bike and it's a jump I've done so many times before – a really easy one."
“This time, I thought I would go bigger and higher, but I went too high and too far and did not have time to correct myself. It was so high I went over my friend who was in front of me."
“I realized mid-air that I was about to hit this tree and that I'd have to brace myself."
Tom with his arm in a sling (PA Real Life/collect)
“As I landed, I remember hitting it with my front wheel and the impact threw me off, so I landed on the ground. The doctors think I hit the tree with my shoulder, because of the extent of the bruising on it."
“I just felt my collarbone heating up. I was in so much pain. I tried to move and couldn't. I remember someone saying when you break a bone it feels 'like a bonfire in your bones' and that's exactly what it was like."
At first, Tom and his friend were concerned about calling 999 in case they wasted anyone's time, if his shoulder was actually okay.
Tom on his bike before the accident (PA Real Life/collect)
But, after 10 minutes of being unable to move or sit up, they called for an ambulance and Tom's friend also alerted his mom.
She drove to the forest and was called by paramedics, who updated her about the seriousness of her son's situation – also advising her to use the mobile app, so she could find him.
“The paramedics sent a link which gave me a three word address, so I could pinpoint exactly where I was."
“Without it, I would have had to walk out of the forest, but I couldn't even stand up and was at least a 30-minute walk from the nearest entrance."
“My mum arrived first, then the ambulance came after about 45 minutes."
Taken to Brighton's Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital, an x-ray revealed that Tom had broken his collarbone on the left side and had a hematoma – a swelling where blood collects outside the blood vessels – because a small piece of bone had penetrated his muscle.
Tom in the hospital (PA Real Life/collect)
Sent home with a sling and painkillers, he returned to hospital two days later for an operation to insert a metal plate into his shoulder and retrieve the piece of bone that had pierced his muscle.
“I was in theatre for a couple or hours, but it took a while for the anesthetic to wear off, so afterwards I was either sleeping or feeling sick," he said.
“But I was able to go home at 9pm the same day."
Tom going into the ambulance (PA Real Life/collect)
“Five weeks on, some days I'll feel really good but others I can really feel my injury."
With the metal plate, it can take three to four months to heal and Tom has been told to avoid anything that risks shattering the bone – meaning he could not ride his bike, swim or play sports throughout the summer vacation.
“It's really annoying," he said. “My friends were all going to the fair and I had to just stand and watch them on the rides."
Have you used our online #map recently? You may have noticed some changes to its look and functionalities.🤓🌎 💡 If… https://t.co/KC227mkxfP— what3words (@what3words) 1599583262.0
But Tom plans to get back on his bike saddle as soon as he can and his friend has fixed it for him after the tire burst during the accident.
“Cycling is one of the best things I can do because it's low impact – as long as I don't crash!"
“I can't wait to get out there and do the jump again. It is such an easy one and next time I won't go as high."
Tom given gas and air after the accident (PA Real Life/collect)
“It would have been 10 times worse if I hadn't been able to use the app. I don't know how I would have got to the ambulance."
“I thought it would be complicated, but using just three words people can find where you are. It's very simple."
Lorna, who also has a daughter Nicole, 22, said she was worried sick when paramedics phoned her up to tell her what was happening.
An X-ray of Tom's collarbone and metal plate (PA Real Life/collect)
“I wasn't sure which entrance of the forest to go to, but because I already had the app, they were able to give me the code, so I could reach him," she said.
“There was no faffing around, as soon as I got the three words, I knew I was heading in the right direction. It took me about 20 minutes to get to him."
“Luckily, I bumped into the forest warden who opened the gate to allow the ambulance in. If I hadn't seen him it would have taken a lot longer."
“Tom does not get hurt easily, he is very active and does a lot of sport, so when I saw him lying there on the floor holding his arm, I thought, 'This is not good.'"
“He told me it really hurt when I ran my finger over it and there was a lump developing. I think the realization that he wasn't going to be able to have a sporty summer was very upsetting and the pain was really kicking in."
A cyclist and horse rider herself, Lorna also uses the forest and understands Tom's desire to ride again soon – saying she is more nervous about him playing football again.
An X-ray of Tom's collarbone (PA Real Life/collect)
“He plays in defense and there's a lot of shoulder barging used for tackling. I think I'll be on tenterhooks for his first football match!" she added.
What3words, which is free to download on iOS and Android and works offline, has split the world into 57 trillion squares and assigned a unique three-word address to each, making it simple to pinpoint and communicate tricky locations.
Today more than 80 percent of emergency services across the UK, and 100 percent of ambulance services, use the app on a regular basis.