Abby Browne, Peter Jessamine, Emily Marcogliese, Allen Gates, Deb Woeller and Martin Hayles
In late December 2014, four new recruits (Abby, Peter, Emily, and Allen) were undergoing optional on-snow training at Mont Ste. Marie, part of Gatineau Zone near Ottawa, with their instructor Deb, and patrol leader, Martin.
They were completing a break in the patrol clinic when a call came in for urgent assistance at the base of a run named Cheval Blanc. With little snow and a fair distance to go, the team dispatched with a backboard in the back of a pick-up truck. Allen stayed back in the clinic to prepare warm blankets and trauma equipment in case the situation deteriorated.
The patient was on the opposite side of an icy, fast-flowing creek near the bottom of the run. It was immediately clear that the skier, named Emily, was seriously injured. She was lying semi-prone, left side down, with her lower body in the creek. Hill staff had found her unconscious and face down in the water. They turned her over to clear her airway, provided reassurance, and called the patrol.
The team crossed the icy, slippery creek in their ski boots. Several stood in the water to stabilize Emily’s body while the others did a primary assessment. They found she only responded to verbal stimuli by opening her eyes. Breathing was spontaneous, and she was moving all limbs, although her right arm was moving a little less.
A cervical collar was placed on Emily. Then she was transferred to the backboard to get her out of the creek. Once out, the rest of the tie-down was done quickly due to apparent deterioration. Emily’s vital signs, other than respiration and level of consciousness, were difficult to assess because most of her clothing was frozen and soaked. It was not easily removed.
The team moved quickly to assess her on the backboard. Pupils equal, her eyes appeared to roll back, though no seizure activity was noted. Not wearing a helmet, under her balaclava, Deb and Martin found a deep 18-centimetre laceration on her forehead, bleeding profusely. It looked like she had somehow hit the rocks on the edge of the creek. A pressure bandage was applied.
There were moments when Emily regained consciousness. When awake, she expressed pain in her arm and abdomen. She also felt nauseous. Patroller Emily Marcogliese was able to access the patient’s abdomen before the patient was secured fully, and found no visible signs of physical damage – only pain to the touch.
The patient was carefully extracted up the steep, slippery creek bank to the pick-up truck for transport back to the clinic where EMS would meet the group. The patrollers jumped in with the patient and continued to monitor vital signs and airway along the way.
At the clinic, high-flow oxygen was administered, along with blankets and a heating pad. There was difficulty obtaining a radial pulse on both wrists and also noted that the right wrist was swollen and unstable. Patient Emily’s blood pressure was deteriorating and she was now less responsive. When she vomited, suction was used to maintain the airway.
EMS arrived 25 minutes later and the patrol team assisted in transferring Emily to their vacuum mattress. She was then transported to the regional trauma centre in Gatineau, about an hour away.
Through subsequent months, the patrol learned that Emily was stabilized in the emergency room and placed in the ICU for several weeks after undergoing two surgeries. One was to repair a stage-four liver laceration, the other to fix a severely fractured right arm.
In addition to a liver laceration and fractured arm, Emily’s injuries included immersion hypothermia, near drowning and head trauma. Fortunately, no skull fracture or cerebral damage was found.
As it turned out, she had swerved at high speed to avoid another skier that day. That’s how she ended up in the creek. She later recalled impaling her abdomen with the handle of her ski pole.
Thanks to the calm, composed teamwork these patrollers displayed, Emily survived. Everyone involved was delighted to see her return to Mont Ste. Marie almost one year to the day after her accident. Congratulations to Abby Browne, Peter Jessamine, Emily Marcogliese, Allen Gates, Deb Woeller and Martin Hayles. We were honoured to present you with the CSP lifesaving award at the leadership conference in Ottawa in May, 2016.