Woman on mission to find man who saved her life 13 years ago after crash in which her grandmother died
PUBLISHED: 12:44 29 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:39 29 July 2019
A chance internet discovery of an Ely Standard article from 2006 has begun to give closure to a 20-year-old woman who nearly died in a crash in which her grandmother was killed.
Now Sophie Katherine O'Sullivan is on a mission - to find, and to say thank you, to the lorry driver that helped to save her life and that of other family members including her twin sister.
"I'm on a mission, searching for the man who saved our lives," said Sophie. "I would give this world or more to find this man, to thank him; I'm sure he's thought about it too."
She wants to tell him what happened to the twin girls he helped pull from the wreckage and to fill in the pieces of what happened to her and her family.
"I don't think I could even put into words how much it would mean to me if I could have the Ely Standard's help to do this. All I know is that I need to find him," she said.
"I only have the bare minimum information about him, similar to what is in the original report."
Our report gave details of the crash that involved three cars and a lorry on the A10 Lynn Road near Littleport.
Our article stated: "One car burst into flames after the impact and a quick-thinking lorry driver rushed to the rescue, pulling the driver free from the wreckage.
"Then he fixed tow ropes to his lorry and pulled the burning car away from the other vehicles saving lives."
The crash claimed the life of her grandmother, 59-year-old Dawnne Shotter from London.
"It was I, my twin sister Louise O'Sullivan, my maternal grandparents Dawnne and Douglas Shotter who were travelling from London when we were involved in a car crash," said Sophie.
"It was no fault of our own but the crash fatally injured my grandmother, critically injuring myself and my grandfather; my twin sister escaped with only minor injuries."
Sophie picks up the story: "I was only a child when the car crash happened. Now at the age of 20, nearly approaching 13 years on since the car crash, I only go by what I can barely remember and what I have been told.
"I, my sister and our grandparents were travelling to Hunstanton for the weekend.
"My granddad owned a holiday home there; it's where all of my best memories from my childhood are. We had the most amazing times with family.
"Little did we know we were going to be involved in a catastrophic car crash?
"From my understanding a man was travelling at speed, which overtook a lorry on a blind bend and then crashed head on into our car.
"The car behind us also got caught up; my beautiful grandma Dawnne passed away instantly as a result of the impact.
"My sister Louise was the only person in our car who was conscious. When the emergency services turned up, she bravely told the police my mum's address in London: bear in mind we were only seven at the time."
Sophie said: "Once cut out of the car, my sister was comforted by one of the firefighters on scene, whose name was Trevor. He gave her a teddy bear which we still have to this day; the teddy bear is also named Trevor. "
Police arrived at the family home in London at around 11pm and broke the news to them.
"Our car caught fie but the lorry driver's quick thinking saved our lives. He pulled our car using his lorry from the wreck to save us as we were trapped," she said.
"Firefighters had to cut off the roof of our car in order for us to be rescued by paramedics."
Sophie and her granddad were taken to Kings's Lynn hospital but later transferred to Addenbrooke's for life saving surgery.
Sophie says: "My grandfather suffered multiple internal injuries, including several broken ribs, a severe brain injury, punctured lungs and his spleen had to be removed.
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"His arm was also going to be amputated but the doctors managed to save it. My granddad was given six per cent chance of living but against all odds he survived and is still here today.
"My sister Louise broke her fingers and had to be cut out of my grandma's car as her leg was trapped underneath my granddad's seat."
Sophie recalls what then happened.
"I suffered a traumatic brain injury. I had a subdural hematoma. I was taken to theatre for neurosurgery where my neurosurgeon performed a craniotomy to save my life. "The blood clot was removed from my brain, but left me with frontal lobe brain damage. I was in theatre for 16 hours. My neurosurgeon Professor Hutchinson saved my life.
"Whilst in a medically induced coma, I went on to have more complications. I had a left dense hemiplegia, also known as one sided paralysis. This was caused by a midline shift caused by the brain injury.
"I also had a lung collapse leaving me with pneumonia. I was given a four per cent chance of living; thankfully I am still here today."
Sophie said: "I spent a total of just under a year in hospital, learning to walk and talk again, having to adjust to life with a brain injury as a child
"My first recollection of waking up in hospital was when my mum had told me that my grandma had passed away. She was only 59. Her and my grandfather had been together since the age of 17.
"They were childhood sweethearts; my granddad hasn't been the same since. He lost his wife and his best friend that day. My mum and uncles lost their mum and me and Louise lost our beloved grandmother.
"The man who caused the car crash was sentenced to six year for death by dangerous driving but he served just three."
"I am now 20 years old. I'm still learning to this day about living with my brain injury. Of course I was protected when I was a child, the situation was sugar coated. I never knew the full extent of the car crash or my brain injury until I was in my late teens.
"I struggled with my childhood so badly after the crash. I was a different person. I wasn't the Sophie that fell asleep in the car on the way to Norfolk in 2006.
"Instead I became an irritable, frustrated and emotional child who couldn't socialise and who couldn't go to school for more than three hours at a time because I was too fatigued.
"It took me months, a year in fact to become steady on my feet again.
"But I still to this day have so many day to day problems I have to deal with.
"Frontal lobe damage causes problems with your executive functions, your cognitive functions, your physical and emotional functions. These are all things I struggle with day to day.
"My mum, not only lost her mother that day, but had to quit her job to become a carer for her dad and her daughter. Looking back on it I don't even know how she stayed so strong.
"I still see a neuro-psychologist every week. She recently obtained my medical notes from Addenbrooke's which included my brain scans which show the subdural hematoma that I sustained in the crash.
"Only now, 13 years on since the crash do I feel the slightest bit content of what happened to us that day. I was left in the dark for so long. Like I said I know I was protected as I was a child and there were things I didn't need to know.
"But life with a brain injury is really difficult. It's difficult for me, for relatives, for my partner, for anyone who doesn't have a brain injury to understand. It's an invisible disability.
"For so long, I searched the internet for some type of report of our car accident, just so I could see it in black and white. So I don't have to just go by memories of what people have told me.
"And thanks to the Ely Standard's report, I have that; I have that closure.
"So I wanted to say thank you."
But finding the lorry driver, she hopes, will give her the chance not only to say thank you but to let him know what happened after that fateful night.
If you know him (our report said he was 31 at the time) please ask him to contact Sophie through the Ely Standard. Email email@example.com or call 01354 661915.