It takes a village
Re: Mountain rescue
On Aug. 16, 2019 my son, Aaron, was air lifted by medical helicopter out of the back country. He went on an annual backpack trip into the Cloud Peak Wilderness with two friends. Aaron is an outdoor enthusiast, a hunter and backpacker with years of experience. After climbing to high-altitude destination lakes and quickly being chased back down to camp by the weather, he noticed he was abnormally quick to fatigue.
That night at 3 a.m. he became short of breath, lightheaded and started coughing and vomiting white foam. Around 6:30 a.m. he contacted family (via satellite communicator) stating that he was resting, concerned for his heath and unsure if he could walk out. He requested we bring our horses to assist him out. In the communication, Aaron, also an experienced paramedic, indicated he may be experiencing symptoms of HAPE (high altitude pulmonary edema). After several hours with minimal communication, we decided to activate search and rescue as well as life flight services.
Cloud Peak Reservoir is located between two counties, Johnson and Sheridan; both counties’ search and rescue services were quickly mobilized. Life flight located his camp but was unable to land to reach him. Eventually, the helicopter crew including a paramedic, a nurse and Dr. Luke Goddard, were dropped at the top of a steep ridge. It took the experienced crew two hours to descend a treacherous boulder field, to reach my son. Aaron was decompensating, displaying dangerously low oxygen saturation levels, a high respiratory rate and rapid heart rate. IV fluids were administered along with oxygen and emergency medications. The difficult terrain did not allow for a stretcher to be utilized or the helicopter to land. With the help of the numerous rescue services, a route was located for Aaron to descend to the reservoir, followed by a raft ride across the reservoir, to access the helicopter.
After transportation and treatment, Aaron is now on his way to recovery. We are fortunate that he recognized his symptoms as a serious threat to his health and was able to seek assistance. HAPE has very low occurrence rate, it affects less than 1% of the population but it has a 50% mortality rate when left untreated.
We are proud and very humbled to be a part of a community where such a dedicated medical response system operates. All these people came together to help bring Aaron home to his wife and 2-year-old son. After transport and treatment locally, Aaron is on his way to a full recovery. He continues to experience chest discomfort and is still coughing but is improving. He has thankfully canceled the remaining backpack trips this season. Being a paramedic, Aaron has been on multiple rescues on and off the mountain, but on Aug. 16, he was the one who needed and received the rescue.
Thank you Sheridan Memorial Hospital Emergency Department, Story Volunteer Fire Department, Rocky Mountain Ambulance, MARC Air (life flight), and both Sheridan and Johnson County Search and Rescue. We would also like to thank his hiking buddies, Tyler and Patrick, as they were a critical part of the rescue team, both of whom have been EMTs.
Lois Bass, RN
Sheridan Memorial Hospital Emergency Department
Editor’s note: The word limit on this letter was waived.