From Tragedy to Triumph: A Return-to-Work Case Study
By Charlene Ramsey, RN, BSN, CCM
Catastrophic Case Manager
A paramedic helicopter went down in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. Three men were on board: a pilot, a nurse, and a paramedic. Each had served in the armed forces and had flown medical transport trips together for so long they were more than just colleagues; they were friends. A winter storm had blown through the day before, laying snow on the ground and making it a cold day in Arizona.
The flight team dropped off a patient and was headed back to base. However, fifteen minutes into their return flight, the helicopter went into a sudden dive over rugged terrain. It crashed, rolled, and started to break apart. The paramedic, Paul (name changed for confidentiality), was ejected from the aircraft. He could hear the pilot taking his last breaths before passing away.
Paul managed to get out of his harness and make his way over to the nurse, whose arm had been crushed under one of the skids of the helicopter; he also sustained a collapsed lung and other injuries. Paul himself had suffered extensive injuries, including two crushed femurs, chemical burns, and additional fractures to his hips, shoulder blades, and ribs. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get his buddy out from under the wreckage, so they dug in and waited for rescue.
As night came, the temperature dropped below freezing. By the time help arrived, the nurse had also died. Paul was the sole survivor. Rescued by the military in a Blackhawk helicopter, he was transferred to a county hospital trauma center for treatment.
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