Billy, a rural postal carrier, had decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and get some wood together for an elderly couple in town.
“It was a beautiful day,” he said. “Chopping wood is one of those chores that isn’t really a chore to me; I enjoy it. I had cut a quite a bit and was just getting ready to split it when I was suddenly knocked to the ground.”
Billy didn’t know it at that time, but a dead tree limb, about six to eight inches in diameter and about 20 feet long, had fallen from the tree above him. The limb struck him on the side of his head and back of his neck.
The force knocked him unconscious for what Billy estimates to be about 30 minutes. When he finally awoke, he found himself trapped under the tree limb and covered with blood.
“I saw my chainsaw still running just a few inches from me and I turned it off,” he said. “I then set out trying to get myself out from under that limb. When I got out from under it, I tried to stand up and realized I couldn’t. I also noticed I couldn’t hold my head up. I knew I had to get some help so I crawled on my knees and my elbows, using my hands to hold my head up, to my truck parked about 15 feet away.”
Billy said he got in his truck, put it in 4-wheel drive and started driving.
Billy’s wife, Norma, said she will never forget the sight of her husband when he walked into the house that afternoon.
“He was covered in blood and the whole side of his face was swollen and turning black and blue,” she recalled.
Norma called an ambulance and by the time they arrived, Billy had lost consciousness and remembers nothing of his ride to Fitzgibbon Hospital in Marshall.
When medical personnel in the emergency room at Fitzgibbon assessed Billy’s condition, they feared the worst and knew it was imperative Billy get to a trauma center in Kansas City as quickly as possible. They called Air Evac Lifeteam.
The Sedalia Air Evac Lifeteam crew arrived at the hospital and soon learned their patient was suffering from multiple skull fractures, a possible broken neck and possible bleeding on the brain.
Base Paramedic Supervisor Tom Yates was a member of the crew that night. “Billy was just coming back from undergoing a CT scan when we arrived,” Yates said. “They were able to confirm the skull fractures, but suspected his injuries were even more extensive. We prepared him for transport, knowing it was important we get him there as quickly as possible.”
Yates and and his partner, flight nurse Tammy Ryan monitored Billy’s vital signs throughout the flight and administered medication, as needed, to treat his medical condition.
“About halfway to Kansas City, we received a call from Fitzgibbon Hospital,” Yates said. “They told us tests revealed Billy was suffering from a sub-arachnoid bleed, which is severe bleeding in the brain. Billy needed to get to a trauma center to get the bleeding controlled. If not, we knew it would more than likely kill him.”
The flight to St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City took about 46 minutes, a trip that would have taken about an hour and 45 minutes if driven by ground ambulance. A trauma team met them at the door as soon as the helicopter landed.
As they left Billy in the hands of the competent medical team, Yates said he turned to Billy and said “We’ll check on you after you get out of the hospital.”
Yates said he was trying to be optimistic, but deep down inside he was concerned for Billy. He knew it was important to get Billy to medical care as quickly as they could, but he wasn’t sure it had been fast enough.
“I doubted whether or not I would see Bill alive again,” he added. “And, if I did I wondered what shape he would be in.
“Billy racks up there with the worst of the patients I’ve ever taken care of,” said Yates, who has been working in EMS for more than 28 years. “He had bleeding in his brain, multiple skull fractures and fractures of the C1 and C2 vertebrae. Most people with those types of injuries just don’t live and if they do, they are paralyzed.”
Fortunately, Billy isn’t like most people. He was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for two days while doctors monitored his condition and gave him medications to control the bleeding and swelling in his brain. He underwent surgery about six days later to repair the fractures in his neck. He was released from the hospital after only 12 days.
Billy and Norma credit much of Billy’s successful recovery to the Air Evac Lifeteam medical crew and their ability to get him to Kansas City quickly.
“They were wonderful,” Norma said. “I don’t want to even think about what might have happened if they had not gotten Billy to the hospital when they did.”
“Our doctor said Billy is the luckiest man on earth, to have suffered those types of injuries and have no paralysis or even tingling,” Norma said. “He said it was due to Billy getting to the medical care he needed in time.”