Local emergency responders work together to save a life
Accident: an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.
EMS: Emergency Medical Services professionals who work tirelessly and collaboratively to save your life following an accident.
May 20-26, 2018: National EMS Week: Stronger Together
Eric Burg left for work the morning of February 1 expecting an average day. The temperature was near zero degrees and the wind was whipping, but Eric had worked in these conditions before and wasn’t concerned. The task of the day was to take down and clean up three large trees in Calmar, and working for a professional tree service, this job was no different than any other. “The plan was good, but things were just difficult from the start,” says Eric. “Maybe it was the temperature or wind chill, but by the time we got to the third tree, we were rushing.”
Through a series of unexplainable and unintentional circumstances, the final tree of the day buckled. Instead of falling the planned way, in a split second, it turned and landed on Eric, folding him in half to the ground. “I heard a loud pop, and had enough time to widen my eyes before it hit,” says Eric. “I woke up with my nose on the ground, between my knees. The crown of the tree had landed on my back and was crushing me. I was suffocating.”
A co-worker quickly reacted, cutting the large branch off Eric and sitting him up so he could breathe, all the while instructing another bystander to call 911. “When I saw my broken body, I started to panic. I think I became a handful for my co-worker, who was trying to keep me still.” However, within minutes, emergency responders arrived to the scene, including South Winn First Responders, Calmar Fire, Winneshiek County Sheriff’s Office, Calmar Police, Iowa State Patrol and the Winneshiek Medical Center Ambulance. “They immediately took over emergency care, stabilizing me and instructing the tree crew to strategically remove branches.” When it was safe to move Eric to the helicopter (which had been called to the scene), the paramedics administered a medication to relieve his pain. Eric states his memory of the accident stops there.
Wendy Kuennen and Ben Shockey, both WMC critical care paramedics, were on duty that day. Wendy says, “When the call came in, we immediately put Gundersen Air II helicopter on stand-by. Fortunately, it was at the Decorah Airport, so response time would be just minutes to Calmar.” When the ambulance team arrived at the scene, tree removal work was well underway. “Eric was sitting, kind of tangled among the tree, but the responders, fire and law enforcement personnel who had arrived before us had cleared many of the branches. We were able to get right to work,” says Wendy. As the paramedics prepared Eric for transport, other emergency personnel created a safe landing zone for the helicopter across the street in the Calmar swimming pool parking lot. Wendy says, “We transported him in the ambulance across the street to where the helicopter had landed, and did the transfer.” She adds, “As we watched the helicopter take off, we both had the feeling he would be ok – his vitals were good and we had done all we could. The collaboration between every single emergency responder worked just as it was designed to, for the benefit of our patient.”
Amy Thompson, Eric’s fiancée, was called at work with the message that he was injured and being airlifted to La Crosse. “We didn’t know really anything at that point,” she says, but with a few family members, they headed north. Eric was admitted to the intensive care unit at Gundersen Health System and remained there in critical condition for two days. The accident had left him with 15 broken bones, mostly on his left side and ribcage, as well as a collapsed lung.
“It was awful to see him unconscious with breathing tubes and braces, strapped to the hospital bed,” she says. “And we didn’t know if he was going to make it minute-to-minute.” However, through the miracles of modern medicine, Eric was released for home 12 days later with metal plates stabilizing his body and a long road to recovery ahead.
In just over two months from the accident, Eric has met many recovery goals. He says, “I have been cleared to drive again – thank goodness. I was getting sick of looking at my living room walls day after day.” Eric’s next goal is to walk on his own, a goal that is in reach with the onset of weekly physical therapy. “Each day is a little better, and it’s interesting to learn more and more about the accident as I talk to people who were there.”
Eric concludes, “My co-worker’s quick actions that day; the emergency responders’ skill… I remember a feeling of relief through the panic when EMS arrived on scene. I knew they were there to help me, and together, they saved my life.”