The World’s Greatest Living explorer has spent over 30 years leading expeditions and breaking world records with his endeavours.
He was born in 1944, just after his father was killed in the war, then brought up in South Africa and moved back to the UK to study at Eton. After failing his A levels he joined the Royal Scots Greys, then the SAS becoming the youngest captain in the British Army.
After leaving the armed forces his need for adventure led him to undertake a number of risky expeditions to remote parts of the globe. One such challenge was his trek to the North Pole in 2000.
Sir Ranulph attempted to walk to the North Pole, solo and unsupported –a distance of 520 miles through some of the most inhospitable landscape on the planet, battling temperatures as low as -52C. Unfortunately, 7 days into this extremely hazardous challenge, disaster struck which brought it to an end and nearly ended his life.
“I was towing the first sledge when it slipped sideways down a ridge and slid about ten feet into the sea. I clattered down the ridge, and my foot and ski went into the water. I desperately needed to pull the sledge out, as it had the radio, the beacon, and seventy days' worth of food. But somewhere underneath the ice blocks, the rope was snagged”.
“I couldn't get it out without lying on my stomach and putting my hand in. You can't wear waterproof gloves because they don't sweat, so I took the mitts off my left hand and fiddled around under the water, and luckily I un-snagged it.
The water wasn't all that cold -- probably about 30 degrees Fahrenheit. But when I got my arm out of the water, it started getting cold very quickly. My fingers -- which were clenched around the rope with three hundred pounds at the other end -- felt like dead wood. They weren't bendable”.
At this moment the extreme temperatures which Sir Ranulph had exposed his hand to are rapidly freezing the layers of tissues in his fingers and hand, damaging the blood vessels and stopping blood flow through them.
“My feet were slipping, and I was standing on an ice block that was sinking. So it was a sticky situation. It was about five minutes of extreme work to drag the sledge to the top of the ridge. When I got there, my first thought was to get blood back down into my fingers. You do this with a simple windmill motion, which uses centrifugal force to make the blood go down. It was the first time in my life that the blood didn't go back down. My fingers had gone past the point of no return”.
Getting out of danger
Sir Ranulph had little time to avoid being overcome by hypothermia (where his core temperature drops below the required temperature for normal metabolism and body functions to be maintained).
He had to rapidly put up his tent and get his stove working in order to try and maintain his body temperature. He managed to warm up a little then skied for 8 hours back to a hut that he had used at an earlier stage of the trip.
By now his condition was very serious with him struggling to maintain body temperature and dealing with the pain of severe frostbite and losing the use of most of his left hand.
Flight to Safety
“The fingers on my left hand began to grow great liquid blisters. The pain was bad so I raided my medical stores for drugs. The next day I marked an airstrip near the hut in the moonlight with Kerosene rags. When I heard the approaching ski plane I lit the rags....some 48 hours later after my arrival at the hut I was on my way to try and save my left hand.
He was flown out to Ottawa General Hospital where his condition was stabilised, he was given antibiotics to avoid his blistered fingers becoming infected and doctors assessed the severity of his injuries.
His doctors initial report on his condition identified that his left hand showed severe thermal injury to all of his fingers which were swollen with fluid, and heavily blistered. When assessing frostbite, Doctors use a similar means of classification to assessing depth of burns. There are 4 degrees of frostbite from First degree to Fourth.
Unfortunately for Sir Ranulph he had sustained the most severe level of frostbite in the tips of his fingers which led to him losing all feeling and use of them, and would ultimately require amputation.
However, he would have to delay this as doctors back in the UK wanted him to wait for 5 months so his less damaged tissues could recover fully before the work was undertaken.
“They throbbed most of the time and complained loudly with needle-sharp pain when brought into contact, however lightly, with any object, even clothing material”.
Not a recommended treatment
Sir Ranulph is known for many things but sitting around waiting for wounds to recover is not one of them. His frostbitten fingers were causing him great discomfort so he eventually decided to pop down to his local hardware store and buy some fret saw blades which he then proceeded to use to trim off the dead tissue on the tips of his fingers. This garage based procedure provided him with the relief he needed but was far from a recommended treatment as there was a high chance that infection could get into the wounds and damage more tissue. Thankfully this did not happen.
Sir Ranulph and Blond McIndoe
A short while after the DIY procedure, Sir Ranulph visited Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead to have his finger tips “tidied up” and there he came into contact with Blond McIndoe. He already knew about the inspiring history of the WW2 Guinea Pig Club whose members had sustained serious burns during combat then received life changing treatment at QVH. He instantly developed an interest in our heealing research work which led him to becomie one of our patrons.
Read about the WW2 heroes who inspired Sir Ranulph
Amanda is one of the UK’s best loved actors, appearing in film, television and stage, ranging from period dramas to comedies, gangster films to Shakespeare, her most recent work has been on BBC1 with crime drama New Tricks.
When Amanda was 15 months old she was accidently scalded in the kitchen with a pan of boiling soup. International Research still indicates that the overwhelming majority of childhood burns occur in the home, and in particular in the kitchen.
In high-income countries, children under the age of five years old are at the highest risk of hospitalisation from burns. Nearly 75% of burns in young children are from a hot liquid, hot tap water, or steam.
Amanda suffered severe injuries which left her with 3rd degree burns to 75% of her body. Young children are particularly vulnerable to burn-related injury and death as their skin is thinner than adults' skin and can suffer deep burns more quickly. The trauma of Amanda’s injury was so severe that at one point she was pronounced clinically dead.
Amanda was treated at the Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead and needed a number of operations as she grew up, to heal her injuries. Now, the only part of her body which is still affected is her left arm, where scars run from her shoulder to her elbow.
As well as appearing in front of the camera, Amanda is also active in encouraging new acting talent: Ten years ago she co-founded Artists’ Theatre School, of which she is also the principal.
The school is for all ages and abilities, with classes given by professional working artists with recognised speech and drama qualifications.
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