Facing the Future – Nate Morris

Because of REACH…well…they’re the only reason I’m alive,” says 22-year old Nate Morris. He just kind of wishes he could remember that helicopter ride, since it was his first. The trade-off is that he also doesn’t remember the horrible accident that gashed his head open, injured his brain and severed a nerve, paralyzing the left side of his face.

Nate with his flight crew (L-R) Flight Paramedic Chris Shrader, Flight Nurse Brian Warner, Nate, Pilot Matt Higginbotham. Nate with his flight crew (L-R) Flight Paramedic Chris Shrader, Flight Nurse Brian Warner, Nate, Pilot Matt Higginbotham.

Nate says, “I remember about two to three hours before the accident, and then I don’t remember anything until two weeks later. For all I know, I could have been vacationing in Europe.”

Nate and his family were out boating. Nate was on the inner tube. Nate’s mom, Cara, recalls, “They weren’t messing around or even going that fast, but it got a little windy.” Suddenly the inner tube went airborne, smashing Nate into the levee’s concrete blocks, leaving him unconscious and bleeding badly.

The fire department responded by boat, but it was quickly obvious that Nate needed REACH. No one was sure if the wind was going to make landing the helicopter on the levee possible, but REACH pilot Matt Higginbotham executed a successful landing, getting Nate the help he needed in the quickest manner possible.

Nate’s dad, Perry, was at his side. Cara shares, “I thought I might get hysterical, so I just stayed in the boat and prayed.” Paramedic Chris Shrader and Nurse Brian Warner prepared her son for transport. “From the time they landed on the levee to when they arrived at the hospital, the flight crew did an outstanding job.”

At Kaiser South Sacramento, the prognosis was bleak. “They said that if he did live, he’d never walk or talk again, and that he’d be in the ICU for months,” Cara recalls. Nate surprised everyone by spending just three and a half weeks in the hospital, with only the first nine days in ICU. His mom never left. “They gave me a bed. I didn’t want to miss anything.”

Customer-Corner-1CNate stayed on the fast track, returning to work after four months. On the one-year anniversary of his accident, he went skydiving. “I’ve always really hated heights, but for some reason, I wasn’t scared at all,” he says.

The left side of Nate’s face remains paralyzed, so doctors recently performed a surgery intended to use a portion of a nerve in Nate’s tongue to restimulate the damaged facial nerve. Although it may take up to a year to see major results, Nate reported subtle improvements within weeks.

Looking back, Nate says, “I learned the obvious lesson: Don’t take a day for granted. I was 21 years old, thinking I wasn’t going to die until I was 90 or 100, and now I realize you just never really know.”

“It’s truly a miracle that Nathan is doing as well as he is,” says Cara. “I can’t thank the REACH crew enough. They’re the reason he’s still here.”

When Dogs Fly – Karen Smiley

It was a stormy, rainy, dark night in Eureka, on California’s rugged northern coast. Imagine a turbulent medical emergency airplane flight where skill and trust between caregivers, pilot and patient become the threads weaving together to safely bring a very sick young woman to a surgeon who will help deliver her from continued suffering.

The trusting patient, in severe pain from a gastrointestinal problem, is Karen Smiley. Her last name suits her well; in spite of sometimes daunting physical problems, Karen is eternally cheerful, and grateful for what she has and where life takes her. Karen is legally blind, stemming from hereditary albinism affecting her since birth. As Karen describes her visual limitations, “When I look at people, I only see their silhouettes.”

One of Karen’s greatest gifts is her seeing-eye dog and constant companion, Dotty. After falling down a couple sets of steps, it dawned on Karen she might be eligible for a trained canine friend. Inquiring with Guide Dogs for the Blind, she discovered she was indeed a candidate. Thus Dotty came into her life. Sitting next to Karen in the REACH air ambulance, the black Labrador/Golden Retriever mix assisted the flight crew with keeping Karen calm in spite of her pain and the bumpy weather.

Dotty almost missed that plane ride, as the staff at the hospital had said, “No way–you can’t take Dotty.” Karen’s reply was, “Are you kidding? She has to come. Having Dotty there made it all feel more secure for me.”

Customer-Corner-2BREACH Flight Nurse Maggie Johnston remembers that night well. “Seeing Dotty interact with our patient was quite amazing, and to have a canine along for the transport was so cool! Dotty was such a gem and really helped our patient with her anxiety and pain throughout the transport. I can’t imagine being blind, trusting us as clinicians to transport her in the stormy weather in an unfamiliar setting. Not knowing what was happening nor seeing her surroundings must have been frightening. Karen began to trust us with her care and with managing Dotty during transport, and she started to feel comfortable. It was just a remarkable flight for me as a nurse to be a part of, as well as making a difference for this patient. I never will forget that transport.”

Karen is grateful for the ride “It’s a really good service. I loved the care, and I’ve only heard good things about it. Dotty got to sit up with the pilot, who took pictures of her. The nurse explained everything to me, like ‘We are in the ambulance,’ and ‘now we are getting into the plane.’ ”

As Karen recovers from her surgery, she keeps busy with Dotty, and husband Erik, too, who is always at her side. She appreciatively says of Dotty, “She has to be in everybody’s business. I’m surely glad she’s in mine!”

On the Road Again – Joe Mathews

Joe Mathews, who happily identifies himself as an avid outdoorsman, has always been healthy and athletic. He was a competitive swimmer in high school. He is an experienced backpacker and Alpine skier who spent 10 years as a ski patroller in the Sierras. But today, Joe is particularly looking forward to his upcoming 61st birthday. Why so special? Because it almost didn’t happen.

As Joe prepared for an evening bike ride last April, his wife Donna called to say she had something to tell him. She was only 10 minutes away, so he waited. Following their conversation, Joe began to experience abdominal pain—severe abdominal pain. He knew that something was very wrong, so Donna got him to the ER as quickly as possible. There, Joe advocated assertively for himself—including walking straight through to the back and putting himself on a gurney. He knew he needed attention NOW.

Joe calls the event “the most surreal episode I have ever experienced in my life. I was in very good physical condition, and this came completely out of nowhere.”

Customer-Corner-3BDoctors at the St. Helena, California hospital determined that Joe was bleeding out from a ruptured internal artery. “They started pumping saline and blood into me,” he relates. The doctors contacted REACH and identified UC Davis Medical Center as the transport destination. REACH arrived quickly, piloted by Scott Ahrens and carrying Flight Nurses Grey Gardner and Brian Warner. Joe says, “I felt very reassured that I was going to be okay. I was completely aware of their highly skilled execution all the way around.”

Having never lost consciousness, Joe was also acutely aware of his pain. “It was kind of insane, actually, that level of pain,” he says. “I’ve joked in the past that we men never understand real pain because we don’t bear children. But some folks told me my pain was probably worse.”

Joe received the timely care he needed. “I’m 100% back to where I was,” he reports, “in fact better.” He often thinks about that call from his wife and those critical 10 minutes, knowing he probably wouldn’t be alive if he had been on his bike instead of at home. He says. “I’ve always subscribed to the idea of living every day to the fullest, but that phrase means more than ever to me now.”

“I want to thank each and every person that had anything to do with helping to save my life that day, and to every responder and REACH employee that continues working daily to do the same for others,” says Joe. “My time as a ski patroller oriented me to emergency response, but nothing I have ever come across—and I mean nothing—can compare to the superbly managed and executed response that I received that day.”