SURGEONS at a North-East hospital have performed their first rib-plating operation to save the life of a farmer who was critically injured by a bull.

Derek Thompson, 69, from Welbury, near Northallerton, was left fighting for his life with 22 fractured ribs in January when he was hit by 800kg bull while rounding up cattle on one of his familys farms.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Joel Dunning teamed up with orthopaedic surgeon James McVie to perform the first rib-plating procedure at James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough.

Titanium plates were pinned to Mr Thompson's broken bones to speed up the healing process, alleviate pain and reduce the risk of complications such as breathing difficulties.

He spent three months in intensive care at James Cook but is now back home with his family.

"I would think I was one of the most difficult cases they have ever had to save," he said.

"Nearly all my ribs were broken, there was not much left. They are now held in place with plates that look like bits of Meccano!

"They are doing a marvellous job, there's no doubt about that."

Mr Dunning said: "We now offer rib plating for major fractures and are one of only eight centres nationally doing this.

"This procedure will be a major help to our most critically injured patients and as a major regional trauma centre we estimate that this will help a lot of patients from the whole region, increasing survival rates and reducing their days on the intensive care unit."

Mr McVie added: "I'm really pleased that Mr Thompson is recovering well from his major chest injury and surgery. It's great that we can now offer this surgery here at James Cook as it will help future trauma patients."

Mr Thompson was inside a pen, picking out bulls to take to the market, when one of the animals charged him.

"I had my back to one of them when he decided to hit me. He knocked me over and hit me again," said Mr Thompson, a father of two and grandfather of four.

"My son knocked him off me and I walked up to the farmhouse and rang my wife."

Despite sustaining severe injuries Mr Thompson said he couldnt remember feeling any pain at the time.

"My wife, Pat, drove me to the Friarage Hospital. When we got there I couldnt get out of the car and then I cant remember any more."