It was a temperate December day in Eureka, California. Alissa Morey, an elementary school librarian, had just returned home from the supermarket with her two young children. She carried the box of groceries into the house while 9-year old Della chaperoned 18-month old Owen.
“I set the groceries on the counter,” Alissa says. “I thought the kids would come in right behind me, but they didn’t. Then I heard Owen crying.” At that moment, Della walked through the door carrying her little brother. “He’s bleeding,” she announced.
Owen’s right hand was bleeding, quite profusely. Alissa called to her sleeping husband, Lehrin, a clinical lab scientist who works the night shift. When Lehrin saw his son’s hand he said, “It’s really bad. We need to go.”
As it turns out, Owen had taken his sister on a brief detour after they got out of the car, attracted by a fixed-gear bicycle. He had simply spun one of its wheels…and then touched the chain. Of the three fingers that got caught in the chain, one was more severely injured than the others. “It looked like a tendon was hanging out,” Alissa recalls.
Fortunately, the Moreys have a hospital just a mile from their home. Owen quickly received both antibiotics and pain medication at the ER. Unfortunately, when the ER doctor saw the X-rays he said, “I’m not going to touch it. I can’t do anything. I’ve called for a pilot to fly you guys out.”
Alissa assumed Owen would be flown to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. The ER physician said, “No, UCSF only does about a dozen of these a year, but there’s a clinic in San Francisco that specializes in finger reattachments.” The doctor emphasized that it was the leading place in the world for such surgeries. The word “reattachments” got to Alissa; she hadn’t thought her son’s injury was that severe.
Cal-Ore Flight Paramedic Dan Johnson and Flight Nurse CJ Janisse arrived promptly. In a beautiful instance of “it’s a small world”, Lehrin knew CJ; they had worked together at St. Joseph’s Hospital. “My husband said he thought highly of her,” Alissa reports. “That was so reassuring. And the ER nurses were telling us how lucky we were to get this flight crew.”
Cal-Ore pilot Dave Ravetti was ready at the McKinleyville airport. “We took an ambulance to the airport,” Alissa says. “We had to put Owen back in his car seat and strap it to the gurney, and I sat in front with the driver. That was rough, being separated from Owen, but the ambulance driver was awesome. He talked to me, and he kept reassuring me in a light-hearted way.”
When they got to the airport, Alissa was overjoyed to learn that she could fly to San Francisco with Owen. She sat in the cockpit with Dave. “The crew needed to draw a curtain,” she says, “but they were really good about explaining everything to me and answering my questions. I had a lot of questions. Owen was screaming on and off, waking up and then falling back asleep. I really remember the crew’s demeanor and tone of voice. CJ just kept speaking softly and calmly. It was reassuring not only to Owen, but to me. I was able to stay calm.”
A ground ambulance was at the other end, ready to take Owen and party to The Buncke Clinic. Buncke specializes in plastic and reconstructive surgery, hand surgery and microsurgery..
“When we arrived, I was so relieved,” Alissa says, “but by the time we got there, the surgeon had left.” They were told he would return in the morning.
Alissa was grateful that CJ and Dan had opted to remain with her and Owen until they had a room. “They would check in with me. ‘How are you? Do you need anything?’. Then they said, ‘Now that you’re settled, we’ll go. You’re in really good hands. You’re going to be just fine.’”
CJ, who has been with Cal-Ore since March of 2012, says it was really gratifying to be able to provide care for the child of a friend. Her nursing career started when she was a just a child herself. “I used to take care of all the other little kids on my block,” she shares, “put Band-Aids on them and stuff. I just wanted to take care of people.”
Back at The Buncke Clinic, Alissa waited for her husband and mother-in-law to arrive. “I was trying to keep a perspective,” she says. “I kept telling myself that it could have been much worse. And it really helped that everyone was reassuring me everything was going to be fine.”
Those were not false words. The next day, Owen’s hour-long surgery went beautifully. There was no nerve damage, and the Moreys were able to take their son home within 24 hours. Owen wore a custom-made cast for about two months to protect his hand while it healed. He recovered beautifully and is doing quite well today.
The Moreys have learned a lot over the course of this experience. Something they are now very familiar with is Cal-Ore’s membership program. In fact, Alissa says, “Now that it’s all over and Owen is fine, membership is my new mission in life. I tell everybody, and I give them the link to Cal-Ore’s website. I know that at least five of my friends have joined so far.” (Members incur no out-of-pocket flight expenses should they be transported by Cal-Ore Life Flight or REACH. For more information membership, click here.)
Owen is again a happy, rambunctious two-year old. Alissa is also back to work, and life is moving forward. “We had such good care from Cal-Ore,” she says. “I appreciate so much that the crew made us comfortable—both physically and emotionally. CJ, Dan and Dave were the absolute definition of caring professionals.”
CJ, Dan and Dave were the absolute definition of caring professionals.
Alisa Morey, Mother of Owen Morey