Stag gore victim Dr Kate Stone 'totally lucky to be alive'
When a startled stag charged at a group of friends enjoying a holiday in the Scottish Highlands, it changed one woman's life forever.
Dr Kate Stone, 44, a scientist from Cambridge, had been invited for drinks with her companions in a garden in Lochailort near Fort William in the early hours of 30 December when the stag, believed to have become trapped there, decided to make its getaway.
It knocked her over, impaling her throat with its antlers.
Dr Stone was airlifted to Southern General Hospital in Glasgow with injuries described as "life-threatening".
'A massive thud'
She was put into an induced coma for a week during which time she underwent two operations on her windpipe.
Two months later, recovering at her sister's home in Dundee, Dr Stone says she is "still only realising the magnitude of what's happened".
She recalls walking through the garden gate at the house in Lochailort and feeling "a massive thud... and then a second thud".
She had been hit by a stag.
"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," Dr Stone says.
She was in shock but not in pain.
'Life is short'
"A friend told me to focus on breathing so I remained very calm and I just did one breath in, one breath out. And that's what I did for about 40 minutes."
Later, as she recovered in hospital, she was told the stag's antler went through her trachea and oesophagus, damaged her vocal cords and fractured her neck, before hitting her spine.
"I'm told it stopped just a few millimetres from my spinal cord," Dr Stone says.
"I'm also told that if it had been slightly to the left or 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."
Following the operations she was unable to walk, talk properly, write, or eat and drink.
She can do most of those things now, but is still having to be fed through a naso-gastric tube and admits the road to full recovery could be a very long one. She is still having treatment and does not yet know what the future holds.
"But I'm totally lucky to be alive," she says.
"I feel like I've gained nearly everything back, kind of from the brink of death.
"It could be a life-changing experience but it confirms how I already feel about so many things."
Dr Stone says she hopes to be able to return to Cambridge, where she runs the hi-tech print company, Novalia, in the next two or three months, "but not until I am ready".
"I tell people I meet, 'Life is short and at any moment something can happen to us'," she says.
"I always thought it would be a car accident.
"I think a stag accident is much more my style."