IT WAS to have been a quiet dram in the company of friends the night before Hogmanay, only for nature and chance to conspire in the bloodiest way.
An academic has told of how she feels “lucky to be alive” after being gored by a stag in a freak accident in the Highlands.
Dr Kate Stone was left fighting for her life after the animal thundered towards her before plunging its antlers into her throat.
After spending days in a medically induced coma and enduring two operations, she has spoken for the first time about the harrowing ordeal.
Dr Stone, 44, was holidaying in Lochairlot near Fort William last December and had been at a ceilidh on the evening of the incident. As the celebrations continued, she and a group of friends made their way back to the home of Jim Hunter, a local musician, for a nightcap.
As they made their way through the gate towards the house, the revellers noticed a stag loose in Mr Hunter’s garden. Moments later, it charged at “full pelt” in the direction of Dr Stone.
What followed was brutal - such was the force of the panicked animal’s lunge, its antlers scythed through her trachea and oesophagus, before fracturing her neck.
The attack was over in a matter of seconds - “a big thud, then a second thud” recalled Dr Stone. “Then I was on the the ground” - but the aftermath revealed the extent of the damage.
“I knew that my neck was in very bad way,” said Dr Stone, a research engineer at the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing. “I shouted for my friends to come over. At first they thought I was joking, but they could tell by the way I was gurgling, rather than speaking, and my neck was all cut open... it became clear I couldn’t breathe or speak properly.”
Remarkably, Dr Stone was able to stay composed and moderate her breathing, even giving members of her party guidance as to how to tend to her. “I was quite calm and telling people a bit what to do,” she said. “I was very, very self aware.”
Eventually, paramedics attended the scene and the mother-of-two - who had gender reassignment surgery in 2007 - was airlifted to Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital.
There followed an arduous series of operations, but also the realisation that her condition could have been much worse.
“The antler went into my spine, I’m told it stopped just a few millimetres before my spinal cord,” Dr Stone explained. “I’m also told that if it had been slightly to the left of the right I would have bled to death at the scene.
“My injuries were life-threatening, absolutely, and it’s so strange for me to realise that. That’s why I’m very very lucky that I can talk at all, walk at all - I’m totally lucky to be alive.”
Dr Stone has to feed herself through a tube as she awaits further operations, and much of muscle wasted away during the week she was in a coma.
But now, she is out of hospital, recuperating at her sister’s home in Dundee, with the goal of returning to work in two or three months.
Reflecting on the attack, she has no cause to wish events took a different turn that night in Lochairlot. In fact, she said, the experience has made her a stronger person.
“Weirdly I don’t wish it never happened because I’m alive. I feel like I’ve gained nearly everything back, kind of from the brink of death,” she aded.
“It just strengthens how I feel and when I try to communicate to people about life and how to be positive it is one hell of a story. I tell people I meet, ‘Life is short and at any moment something can happen us’.
“I always thought it would be a car accident. I think a stag accident is much more my style.”