On Sunday, March 29, 2015, Len Fornelli was on duty at the Ski Vorlage ski area, in Wakefield, Quebec, part of Gatineau Zone. He watched a young skier do several fairly aggressive runs down the Birch Valley run and on his next pass noticed someone off the edge of the hill in the ditch; the same skier he had noticed earlier. As approached, he saw three large rocks at the bottom of a bowl-shaped five-foot ditch – and blood. The skier was conscious and trying to get out. A radio call was instantly made for patroller assistance on skier’s left, just before the final pitch on the run.
Hearing the call, CSP Patrol Leader Scott Dowser and colleague Will Piper detected the urgency. Scott contacted the assistant patrol leader, Nancy Binnie, who requested two snowmobiles from area operations to transport the three of them up to the incident site.
Upon arrival, Scott first noted the blood. It was hard to find anywhere on the snow that wasn’t red. While Len continued to assess the patient’s condition, a bystander (a lifeguard) and Nancy maintained C-spine for a suspected neck and back injury. The patient was lying on his stomach with his feet at the bottom of the ditch and his head at the top and not wearing a helmet. Nancy noticed a large laceration on his scalp, bleeding profusely. The team worked quickly to control the bleeding while maintaining C-spine. It wasn’t long before the blood seeped through medical padding and more layers were added.
As Scott contacted resort administration to arrange for an ambulance, Jeff Menzies arrived with a toboggan and backboard. The remaining team set up a perimeter as a crowd gathered. The patient’s fiancé was one of them. They made sure she was okay.
With the bleeding under control for the moment, the team focussed on maintaining C-spine control and extrication. They had significant concerns about blood loss and shock, and needed to get him off the hill quickly with minimal movement.
To protect the patient’s spine, they decided to move him out of the ditch onto skiable terrain first, and then put him directly into a vacuum mattress instead of waiting until reaching the clinic before making the transfer (Quebec ambulance protocol). Axial immobilization was maintained throughout.
As they levelled the patient and prepared him for transport, the bleeding worsened and another large laceration on the right side of his head was discovered. Bandages were placed and pressure maintained throughout transport. At base, the team assisted paramedics to transfer the patient into the waiting ambulance. They also helped the patient’s fiancé load her car so she could follow the ambulance to the hospital.
This patient suffered a compressed skull-fracture, two significant skull lacerations requiring 140 staples, fractures to the C-3, C-5 and T-5 vertebrae, and the C-4 vertebrae was shattered. A splinter from that was pressing against his carotid artery. Any movement could have caused it to sever. Several days later, the patient’s fiancé followed up to say that, at first, his condition deteriorated due to blood loss and respiratory failure but later she was told he could expect to recover close to 100 per cent.
The patient later connected with everyone involved to say thank you. He said his surgeons thought the accident took place at the bottom of the hill. Shocked to learn it happened on the hill, they asked how he got down. He told them the Canadian Ski Patrol brought him down in a toboggan. They said he was lucky. To that he said, “I wasn’t lucky or I wouldn’t have crashed. I was privileged to have the best of care available by a bunch of caring and highly-trained people doing what they do best.”
Congratulations to the team of Len Fornelli, Nancy Binnie, Scott Dowser, Will Piper, Jeff Menzies, Kama Szereszweski, Boris Smaryanakis, Jackie Stephens, and Kinga Golebiowski for saving a life. The CSP was proud to present this group with a CSP Lifesaving Award at the Leadership Conference in May, 2016.