Injured skier at Beaver Creek saved by vacationing ER doctor on Larkspur
When David Voysey and his sons Charlie, 16, and Bobby, 14, came to Beaver Creek from Kansas City for a spring break trip in March, a perfect day on the mountain turned into a serious medical emergency on the slopes of Larkspur.
The Voyseys got up to Beaver Creek late on Sunday, March 11, getting a half-day pass for the afternoon and full-day passes for the days to follow. They were warming up with a few runs on Larkspur when Charlie collided with a snowboarder, slicing his forearm with his ski.
“By the time I got to the ridge, I saw a whole bunch of people congregated around somebody and I recognized the helmet,” David Voysey said of his son. “It was a green helmet we rented.”
With a thick ski jacket and gloves, it was hard to tell the extent of the injury at first.
“We could just tell there was a lot of blood coming from somewhere,” David said. “Charlie’s heart beat and it shot blood, like you see in the movies.”
David tried to assess the injury the best he could while in the middle of a run in one of Beaver Creek’s bowls.
“Right about then, this guy came skiing up.”
Expert in emergencies
Dr. Heston LaMar went to University of North Carolina Chapel Hill for his undergraduate degree before heading to Wake Forest for medical school. He has spent his career working in emergency medicine, working for 11 years as a medical director of an emergency department and also director of EMS, using both air and ground services.
Three years ago, LaMar went back home to Wake Forest to get more involved in the teaching side of emergency medicine.
“For me, I really liked emergency medicine because it’s such a broad skill set,” said LaMar, who’s done everything from deliver babies to care for people who are 103 years old. “It’s just a nice broad spectrum of care, and the ability to be able to take care of almost all situations.”
Like stumbling upon a severe injury while on a ski trip with friends?
LaMar had never been to Beaver Creek before, but he was on a five-day Colorado trip with some buddies.
When he came down Larkspur on that bluebird day, he saw some activity 100-200 yards ahead of him and decided to try and help ski patrol on scene.
“I try not to be too intrusive because I worked as a medical director and sometimes people show up who mean well, but maybe don’t have the training,” LaMar said.
‘Significant amount of blood’
With blood gushing out of his one son’s arm on the side of a ski run, David’s mind was racing. His wife was in Jamaica with their daughter for their spring break trip. How’s he going to tell her what happened? He’s got another son already at the bottom of the hill. Who can take care of him while he stays with Charlie?
As ski patrol arrived, so did a skier with a backpack.
“I didn’t really look at him because I’m not really look(ing) at anything other than my kid,” David said. “He said, ‘Hey, I’m an ER doctor, do you guys need some help?’ He pops off his skis and grabs his backpack and next thing you know, he’s got scissors out cutting off the glove and the jacket.”
As soon as LaMar arrived on scene, he could tell the severity of the injury.
“I could already see the blood coming through his fairly thick ski coat, which to me was worrisome that there was already blood coming through a garment that thick that quick,” he said. “It was clear just from holding his arm before we cut it off that both bones in his forearm were broken. And then once we got the coat off, he had about a 7-8 centimeter laceration that was gaping over his forearm. There was a significant amount of blood coming from the wound.”
Ready for Anything
LaMar’s biggest fear is knowing how to help someone but not having the proper tools to do it. For that reason, he likes to be prepared. He keeps medical supplies ready in his car and also carries a backpack with the basics. He’s only had to use the backpack emergency kit once, on his own kid — and for that, his friends like to give him a hard time.
Why carry all of that “stuff” when you never use it?
“We harass him about it a little bit, but it’s just kind of his deal,” LaMar’s friend Patrick Bernstein said laughing. “He is prepared constantly.”
In that backpack, “just a regular Osprey day pack,” LaMar carries what he considers essential emergency medical supplies. He has a small multi-tool kit for basic procedures; an Albuterol inhaler; epinephrine auto-injector; oral gel; and some other basic tools.
He also carries QuikClot combat gauze and a self-adherent wrap called Coban.
“What I’ve always not wanted to happen is for someone to have a medical emergency that I know what to do but I don’t have the things to do it with,” LaMar said. “To me, that would be the worst.”
‘Probably saved his life’
After LaMar was able to assess Charlie’s injury on the mountain, he immediately put QuikClot combat gauze in the wound.
“It’s something that was originally developed in the military that we now use in emergency medicine,” LaMar said.
One of the ski patrollers there was also a paramedic and provided pain medicine.
“I’ll tell you what, he was a tough kid,” LaMar said. “His arm was in bad shape and even with me stuffing the gauze in, he was quite the trooper.”
With the gauze in, LaMar applied Coban, a sticky wrap to serve as a quasi-tourniquet. Between the gauze and the compression, LaMar stayed there to make sure blood didn’t come through, which it didn’t.
“He basically emptied it and probably saved his life,” David said.
Bernstein, who is also in medicine and was skiing with LaMar that day, remembers the severity of the injury and the preparedness of his friend.
“I mean he had combat gauze,” he said laughing. “It’s pretty rare you see a vascular injury, and this is where the injury needs to be packed immediately — and he had combat packing gauze in his backpack, and the compression dressing.”
Credit to all involved
After LaMar did his part in assisting, ski patrol readied Charlie to be ambulanced to Vail Medical.
“I’m a decent skier, and the guy who was taking him down was going just as quick as I was, and I was moving,” LaMar said of the Beaver Creek patroller. “I was impressed with his level of skill with the sled behind him.”
LaMar went on with his ski day.
“I don’t really like to be the center of attention,” LaMar said. “And it’s just kind of what I do. When you’ve done it for so long, it’s not shocking and I think that’s what makes trauma surgeons, paramedics and ER docs good at that because if stuff like that does cause you anxiety, then you can’t perform in the moment.”
Charlie and his father went to Vail Medical for five hours of “spaghetti surgery,” David said.
Surgery included attaching two arteries, ligaments and working on nerves. David said the doctor told them it was the worst ski accident he’d seen besides the fatal ones. David credits Vail Valley Medical Center’s Dr. Erik Dorf for his quality work.
Charlie is going to be OK and has some therapy work ahead of him, but he will live to ski again.
“It was kind of one of those situations you just have to deal with,” David said. “It’s hard to watch your kid get hurt, but the whole experience as bad as it was, between Dr. LaMar, Trey (the snowboarder), the Vail Medical team, everything was great the way it was all handled. I’ve got no complaints there.”
‘All is well’
LaMar finished skiing with his friends and was enjoying apres when the story came up, to the shock of their friends who weren’t there.
“I thought maybe it is kind of odd because that is a very unusual situation for when you’re skiing, but I had already cleared it from my mind,” he said. “The kid’s OK, going to a great hospital and all is well.”
One of their friends, Megan Brasser, followed up with David and paired the father-and-son with LaMar.
“It was really nice to have that loop and be able to communicate with his dad and him and know he’s in recovery,” LaMar said. “That was the brightest spot of the whole thing, to see the follow-up and see a big smile on his face.”
For David and the rest of the Voyseys, the brightest spot is that Charlie is OK, thanks to ski patrol, the staff at Vail Health and LaMar.
“He’s kind of the angel on the mountain,” David said. “I don’t know what we would have done had he not skied by.”
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