A Co. Derry woman who was trampled by 18 beef cattle after climbing over a gate to rescue her elderly dog has spoken of her fears that she might “die” in a field.

Heather Vance from Magherafelt had been planning to take her 12-year-old collie dog, Trigger, for a walk when she noticed that he had gone into a field near their home.

Vance said: “I stood helplessly watching as the cattle began to circle Trigger and then one head butted him into the sheugh at the side of the field.

“I went in, not thinking that I was in any danger as I’d grown up on a farm and had experience of cattle. I got to Trigger, bent down and put my hand out to him. 

“I had his collar in my hand and the next thing I remember was feeling a thump on my back.

“I hadn’t realised that the cattle had come up behind me and were now encircling me.”

Attacked by cattle

With the cattle now surrounding Vance, they attacked her while she was attempting to rescue her dog.

“I was pushed to the side and fell whilst the animals went around in a circle trampling me. 

“It was terrifying and I called out for help, but no one was there to hear. It’s hard to know how long this went on for.

“At one stage the animals stopped for a brief moment but then started again.  I could feel my whole body being trampled, it was so frightening, and I thought that I might die that day.”

The field where the attack occurred
The field where the attack occurred Source: Heather Vance

Eventually the animals retreated from Heather and eased back into the field. 

“I knew I had to get myself out, but I was in excruciating pain and couldn’t see very well as my glasses had come off. 

“I managed to put my leg over barbed wire to get into the next field and limped along to the corner and sat down,” she said.

Although she was relieved that she had got away from the cattle, she had left her home without her phone or house keys and knew that her only option was to try get herself out of the field.

She said: “I was terrified and worried I might lose consciousness and never be found in time as no-one knew I was there.”

“In agony I pushed myself off the ground and I really didn’t know what I was going to do. 

“The pain was increasing, and I was beginning to feel lightheaded and knew if I passed out it wouldn’t be good. So, I pushed myself up.”

Eventually reaching the roadside, her only option was to wait until a car came by, which happened to be a family member, who was able to bring Vance to receive care in Magherafelt, where it was quickly realised that she would need additional medical care because of her injuries.

Air ambulance

The helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) – which is provided by the charity Air Ambulance Northern Ireland, in partnership with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service – flew Vance to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

The aircraft can reach anywhere in Northern Ireland in approximately twenty-five minutes, and operates seven days a week for 12 hours per day, responding on average twice every day.

Farm related incidents account for approximately 6% of call outs of the air ambulance service, on average once per week.

To the amazement of the medical team, Vance hadn’t suffered major trauma to her head and had no internal bleeding.

However, she had suffered three fractures to her pelvis, a broken left collar bone, broken right elbow, extensive soft tissue damage to her left leg and a large hematoma on her left thigh, which later required surgery.

While Vance has returned to work since the attack, her road to recovery has been long after her significant injuries, but she hopes to highlight the danger of cattle with young calves and dogs.

woman with dog
Heather Vance with Trigger Source: Heather Vance

“I had to learn to wash, dress, walk, cook and drive again. Now two years on, my physical injuries have healed well although I have scars and some pain and discomfort throughout my body depending on my movements and daily life.”

Vance said the incident had a significant impact on her mental health, but through counselling and wellbeing sessions, this has helped to improve it.

She added: “I would like to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped me from my accident and throughout my recovery. 

“I would like to highlight the vital work of the charity Air Ambulance Northern Ireland and encourage the community to do what they can to support this life-saving charity.”