By Philip Neuwirth, BS, MICP, CCEMTP, FP-C

Air-Med One received a dispatch to Gardiner, NY for a skydiving accident. It wasn’t until the Flight Team kneeled next to the patient, and were told he is a Paramedic, did they realize it wasn’t any Paramedic, it was “Brian” a friend and co-worker; a ground Paramedic we all knew and loved.

According to bystanders, Brian was flying a tiny, high-performance parachute and struck the ground in a face first (prone) orientation and was nearly parallel with the earth as his parachute was still in a full dive position. It was estimated he struck the ground at approximately 30-40 MPH, enough force to cause him to bounce and roll multiple times. He was knocked unconscious for several minutes before regaining some semblance of responsiveness. Brian was wearing a helmet that may have saved his life.

Brian was not a novice jumper. He had approximately 1000 combined parachute jumps [~750 skydives and ~250 BASE jumps].

On the Flight Team’s arrival, Brian was responsive to painful stimuli, breathing on his own, diminished bilateral breath sounds and critically hypotensive. They made a quick decision to “load and go” and fly him 26 minutes to the closest trauma center, and not back to their trauma center. He was critically injured and afraid he wouldn’t survive the additional 12-minute flight. Their plan was to resuscitate him en route before attempting a rapid sequence induction. Ground ALS established IV access and had one failed intubation attempt.

On arrival to the trauma center,  Brian was intubated, and bilateral chest tubes placed. He was eventually sent to the SICU and required 11 units of blood over the next 8 hours before the Vascular Trauma Surgeons and Interventional Radiology were able to stop the bleeding.

Brian suffered a shattered right femur, complex open book pelvic fracture, pelvic ring disruption, lacerated left kidney, sacral canal fracture and compromise, spino-pelvic dissociation, L4 & L5 fracture, multiple rib fractures, cardiac contusion and bilateral pneumothorax.


Brian survived the initial muscular-skeletal injuries, but his will to live had just begun. Brian obtained ventilator acquired pneumonia which progressed to Sepsis and ARDS. He remained in critical condition wi13346919_10105003685845259_5570404086615541253_n-1th a poor prognosis for several weeks. I went to visit him during that time; he had a fever of nearly 40 degrees (C) and was on a ventilator with a peep of 20. He stayed in a medically induced coma for nearly five weeks and hospitalized [including rehab] over six months before he went home for the first time.

June 7, 2016 was exactly one year since his accident. He wrote on Facebook, “Today is a momentous day for me. Sometime late this afternoon will be one year of my second lease on life.”

When Brian woke up, he had to face the reality of re-learning how to do everything we all take for granted, most significantly learning how to walk again. He stated, “Despite everything that happened so much good has come out of this experience. It still blows my mind to look back and think about how far I’ve come.”

I’m happy to report that exactly one year to the day of his accident; Brian has been cleared to work, full-time as a Paramedic again.

Never underestimate the will to live!
The Flight Team, Tom Opperman, FP-C and Tom Butler, CFRN received an EMS Strong: Called To Care” award for their outstanding clinical judgment and treatment.

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