A teenager who broke his collarbone when his bicycle crashed into a tree was saved from the middle of a forest thanks to a special mobile app.
Tom Allen, 15, was cycling with his friend in Friston Forest, East Sussex – part of the South Downs National Park – on July 28 when a jump ended in disaster.
Tom misjudged the distance, flew into the air and crashed into a tree, resulting in a pain so excruciating it felt like a “bonfire in his bones.”
He called an ambulance, but when he couldn’t give a specific location, paramedics ordered him to download the what3words app on his phone, with a three-word address for his location, which allowed them to find him in 45 minutes.
Tom, from Seaford, East Sussex, whose frenzied mother Lorna, 52, a charity worker, also found him through the app, remembered: very easy.
“This time I thought I was going to go bigger and higher, but I went too high and too far and didn’t have time to correct myself. It was so high that I got over my friend standing in front of me.
“I realized in mid-air that I was about to hit this tree and that I had to brace myself.”
Tom recalled, “When I landed, I remember hitting it with my front wheel and the impact knocking me off, so I landed on the ground. The doctors think I hit the tree with my shoulder because of the size of the bruises on it.
I just felt my collarbone warm up. I was in so much pain. I tried to move, but it didn’t work. I remember someone said that when you break a bone, it feels “like a bonfire in your bones,” and that’s exactly how it was. “
At first, Tom and his friend were concerned about calling 999 in case they wasted someone’s time, if his shoulder was really okay.
But after being unable to move or sit up for 10 minutes, they called an ambulance and Tom’s friend also alerted his mother.
She drove to the forest and received a call from paramedics, who informed her of the seriousness of her son’s situation – and also advised her to use the mobile app so she could find him.
Tom continued, “The ambulance crew sent me a link that gave me a three-word address so I could find out exactly where I was.”
Tom said: “ Without this I would have had to walk out of the woods but couldn’t even get up and was at least a 30 minute walk from the nearest entrance.
“My mother arrived first, then the ambulance arrived after about 45 minutes.”
An X-ray from Royal Alexandra Children’s Hospital in Brighton revealed that Tom had broken his left collarbone and had a hematoma – a swelling where blood accumulates outside the blood vessels – because a small piece of bone had penetrated his muscle.
Sent home with a sling and painkillers, he returned to the hospital two days later for surgery in which a metal plate was inserted into his shoulder and retrieved the piece of bone that had pierced his muscle.
“I was in the cinema for a few or hours, but it took the anesthetic to wear off, so after that I slept or felt nauseous,” he said.
“But I was able to go home at 9 pm the same day.”
He added, “Five weeks later, I feel really fine on some days, but on 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 crushing the bone – meaning he couldn’t ride a bike, swim, or exercise during the summer vacation.
“It’s really annoying,” he said. “My friends all went to the fair and I just had to watch them on the rides.”
But Tom plans to get back on his bike saddle ASAP, and his friend made it for him after the tire burst in the accident.
He laughed: “Cycling is one of the best things I can do because it has little impact – as long as I don’t crash!
“I can’t wait to get out and do the jump again. It’s so easy and next time I won’t go that high.”
Tom continued, “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 gotten to the ambulance.
‘I thought it would be complicated, but with just three words people can find where you are. It’s very simple.”
Lorna, who also has a daughter, Nicole, 22, said she was concerned when ambulance personnel called to tell her what was going on.
“I wasn’t sure which entrance to the forest to go to, but because I already had the app, they could give me the code so I could reach it,” she said.
“There was no hassle, as soon as I got the three words I knew I was going in the right direction. It took me about 20 minutes to get to him.
“Fortunately I ran into the ranger who opened the gate to let the ambulance in. If I hadn’t seen him, it would have taken much longer.”
Lorna continued: “Tom is not easily injured, he is very active and does a lot of sports, so when I saw him lying there on the ground holding his arm, I thought,” This is not good. “
“He told me it really hurt when I ran my finger over it and a lump developed. I think the realization that he couldn’t have a sporty summer was very upsetting and the pain was really starting. “
A cyclist and rider herself, Lorna also takes advantage of the forest and understands Tom’s desire to start riding again soon – she says she’s more nervous when he starts playing football again.
“He plays in defense and a lot of shoulder attack is used to tackle. I think I’ll be wary of his first football game!” She added.
Free to download on iOS and Android and working offline, What3words has split the world into 57 trillion squares and each assigned a unique three-word address, making it easy to locate and communicate with tricky locations.
Today, more than 80 percent of emergency services in the UK and 100 percent of ambulance services use the app regularly.