It happened for a reason,” says Brian Cortez of Highland, California. As he discusses the motorcycle accident, his voice is filled with gratitude, not regret. “If it hadn’t happened, my wife and I probably wouldn’t have gotten back together.” You can’t argue with that silver lining.
Brian’s upbeat perspective is admirable considering the injuries he sustained on January 8, 2014: a shattered arm, 10 broken ribs, a broken shoulder blade and collar bone, a punctured lung and two damaged lumbar vertebrae. Oh, and there was the foot thing. Immediately after the accident, Brian remembers thinking there was something wrong with his foot. “Turns out it was almost ripped off,” he reports. “I saw a picture of it. It was blue and turned the wrong direction.”
If it hadn't been for REACH being there so fast,
I probably wouldn't be sitting here today.
Brian Cortez, Survivor
Brian had been looking forward to putting on his race gear, getting on his 2011 Yamaha YZF-R1 and riding Palomar Mountain with three friends. Located in northern San Diego County, Palomar is very popular among motorcycle riders and sports car drivers for its challenging roads. Photographers station themselves at the abundant hairpin turns, hoping to sell their photos to the riders and drivers. “Yeah, we wanted to make sure they got some good pictures of us, knees dragging on the road and all,” says Brian, who has been riding since 2001.
It was their last run of the morning. Brian was the final rider in his group to make the descent. It started out fine, and then “everything went wrong at the same time,” he says. “I came around a corner, and there were two cars. When I went to pass them, there was an oncoming car. One of the cars on my side started to make a left turn. I would have T-boned him-—I knew I had to do my best to get behind him. Just as I tried to match his speed, he slammed on his brakes. I hit the rear passenger panel. I can’t even describe the impact. I felt like everything was being pushed out of me.”
“Next thing I know, I’m on the ground and I can’t breathe,” Brian says. “I remember sitting there, going in and out of consciousness. I remember the paramedics. I remember the back of the helicopter for some reason, and the very distinctive sound of the blades, the ‘whoop, whoop’ noise. I remember them loading me into helicopter and that I was cracking jokes with the crew.”
REACH 16 out of Oceanside had been called for the transport. The helicopter, piloted by Matt McLuckie, carried Flight Nurse Hilary Comeau and Flight Paramedic Jonathan Prucher. Jonathan was a ground ambulance paramedic in Los Angeles prior to joining REACH four years ago. “The natural progression is to get into air ambulance,” he says. “It’s a larger scope of practice, and there’s more autonomy. You get to work with the most critical patients, which is extremely satisfying, and also challenging.” Jonathan reports that Brian’s transport went off without a hitch.
REACH flew Brian to Palomar Medical Center. Since he lost consciousness before takeoff, Brian doesn’t recall the flight. “Me and my wife were separated at the time,” he says, “and the next thing I know, I’m waking up in the hospital, and she’s standing there with her arms crossed, shaking her head, like, “You’re in big trouble!” But Amy was there for him, as was his 17-year old daughter, Savannah. “I was never alone. And I healed really fast.”
Brian required four surgeries in the first couple days, one immediately upon arrival. “The doctors and nurses and medics were awesome,” Brian emphasizes. “That facility was great.” Brian was in the hospital for two weeks and was then sent to a physical rehabilitation center. “It was a really nice, top-of-the-line rehab, but I couldn’t handle it.” What does he remember most? “I’ll never forget the parking lot there. I finally got a chance to get in a wheelchair and go outside. I wheeled myself out to the parking lot and just sat there and cried. It felt so good to get outside again.”
The doctors wanted Brian to stay for a month. “I told them after a week that I was leaving, or that I’d break out. I knew I could do all the exercises myself. They wouldn’t let me leave unless I got into the car on my own. I could barely do it, but I did,” Brian says. “And as soon as I could walk, I went back to the gym.”
Brian, a teacher in juvenile hall, really missed his job, too. “I knew if I could get back to work, I could get back to normal. I went back in twelve weeks.”
Before Brian’s accident, while they were separated, Amy had planned a vacation for herself. Her trip fell during Brian’s recovery. Chuckling, he says, “My insurance check just happened to come through while she was gone, so I went shopping for a new bike. I got a 2010 Ducati. I couldn’t even ride it home at the time, but I’m back on the road now. It’s red and black,” he adds. “It matches the REACH helicopter!”
Brian is getting better day by day. He has a limp, and his back injuries were significant. He’s still bruised. “But to look at me,” he says, “you would probably never guess I was in an accident.” Brian can’t say enough about the difference it made to have his family and friends at his side. “And if REACH hadn’t been there, I don’t know if I would have died or not. I’m a fighter, but I was really far away from a hospital.”
REACH is grateful to have had the opportunity to be there for Brian, and we wish him and his family a bright and healthy future.