Al and Shelley Mires and their sons Alex and Jake live in Shingletown, California, a small Shasta County town just below Mount Lassen. They own a music store in nearby Palo Cedro, and Al also co-owns a coffee shop. In addition to repairing instruments and giving music lessons, Al enjoys playing his guitar.
Not too long ago, Jennifer Hart stopped at that coffee shop for a bite to eat. When Al delivered Jennifer’s food, something red caught his eye. Jennifer is a Membership Sales Manager serving Redding and the surrounding areas. She educates these communities about the REACH for Life air ambulance membership program. Turns out Al had just returned to work following a medical emergency that included a timely ride in a red helicopter. Says Al, “It was so weird. It was literally my first or second day back at work, and I just happened to notice that she had a red REACH folder sitting on the table.”
Jennifer recalls, “I had it with me because I was doing a presentation that day. When Al found out I worked for REACH, he said that he had just been transported and emphasized how impressed he was with the flight crew. Then he told me his whole story.”
Their professionalism and skills went above and beyond the call of duty...
Al Mires, Survivor
“At age 51, I had gone through my whole life relatively unscathed,” Al states. “I had never even had an IV or been hospitalized. Then I found myself in an emergency situation where my life was threatened.”
Quite some time ago, Al started having difficulty swallowing food. The problem worsened until even swallowing liquids was problematic. Then, a few months before the transport and for no obvious reason, things improved. “I thought I had a grip on it,” he says, “but that day I took a quick bite of lunch, and the food got stuck. I did something that I had learned often worked; I drank water to help get it down. Well, I swallowed so hard that I ripped a 4 1/2” hole in my esophagus.”
It was May 16, 2014. REACH 5, our base in Redding, received a call from Shasta Regional Medical Center regarding a patient who needed emergency esophageal repair ASAP. The crew, Pilot Pete Ortiz and Flight Nurses Terri Debruler and Gary Amundson, responded immediately.
Al knew he was in trouble. “I was hemorrhaging blood when I walked into the ER,” he says, “and trying to talk myself out of going into shock. When I finally got into an examination room and proceeded to put eight or ten ounces of blood in a bag, they were pretty immediate in deciding I needed to be flown to UC Davis.”
Al says the REACH crew’s arrival put his mind at ease. “First of all, Terri comes in the room and she has the jumpsuit on, so she looks like she’s ready for business. That in itself was reassuring. And she had a smile on her face, too. It was a nice balance.” He adds, “I’m a bit of a control freak. It was a great feeling when they showed up and I could just relax. I felt like somebody had my back.”
Shelley hoped to fly along, but there wasn’t room on the helicopter. “They were so great about calming my wife,” Al recalls. “Terri got her cell number and told her they’d call the minute we touched down. It’s those little things that tell you these people have an aptitude for their job and should be doing the job they’re doing.”
Once onboard, Al focused on staying awake and calm. “Terri and Gary were at my side the whole time, very concerned and compassionate, and Pete flew the chopper so gently I thought I was in a Cadillac,” Al relates. “Their professionalism and skills went above and beyond the call of duty and continued until I was in the hands of the ICU folks.”
The UC Davis team, knowing surgery might be required, called in a doctor with both gastrointestinal and cardiac knowledge. “It’s 1:32 in the morning or something,” Al says, “and I’m in a fix. They got a hold of this doctor. She was visibly tired when she got there—she also works at the Davis Air Force Base—and I thought, ‘This lady is likely going to save my life. And it’s two in the morning on a Friday. And this is probably not her favorite sport.’ But she didn’t waste any time; in fact, she grabbed the gurney and carted me to the room herself!”
The doctor’s exploration revealed that the tear had started clotting, making surgery unnecessary. Al spent four days in the hospital healing, plus another week at home, before going back to work.
Today, Al’s pain level is minimal. His physical pain, that is. “I’m on liquids,” he reports. “For an Italian—and I cook like a son of a gun—that’s a very new experience!”
Al says the event made him a little more retrospective and contemplative. “There were no less than 50 people involved in my situation. People from every walk of life, from every ethnic group, just getting it done. It was stunning. I mean when you’re down like that and everybody comes around to help, and they’re so compassionate…it’s just amazing.”
Jennifer is grateful she was in the right place at the right time. “The crew at REACH 5 has been around a long time. They grew up in the community. When transport patients tell me in person about their absolute faith and comfort with the crew, it just makes me all warm and fuzzy. It completes the circle and lets me know I’m doing my job. And if we do our jobs right, everything else falls into place.”
Al sums up his experience by saying, “It’s having people like this in the world that gives me great hope. I’m humbled to have been in their care.”
REACH wishes Al and his family all the best and wants him to know we are humbled to have helped care for him.