ER doc, rescue celebrated
Improv procedure saves the day
By MATT FURBER
Express Staff Writer
St. Alphonsus Life Flight
paramedics Tammye Erdmann and Blaine Patterson first met Ben King on
Dec. 5, 2003, as he was dying on a stretcher in a church parking lot in
The next time they saw him was
Friday, April 23, at a reception at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center
in Ketchum. The event was organized by the hospital to recognize Dr.
Kieth Sivertson, St. Luke’s emergency department director, and the
extensive medical effort that went into saving King’s life.
Ben and Melissa King join Dr.
Keith Sivertson at a St. Luke‘s celebration of a procedure Sivertson
did with a Makita drill to save Ben King’s life in December. Express
photo by Matt Furber
In Erdmann and Patterson’s
professional opinion, the 29-year-old did not have much chance of
survival as they packaged him up for a helicopter flight on the snowy
night in Shoshone. The rescue flight that was supposed to start on St.
Luke’s helicopter pad originated in Shoshone due to the weather. It was
a desperate attempt to save a rapidly expiring life.
King was suffering an
inner-cranial bleed caused by the trauma of falling down a flight of
stairs in their Hailey home. Despite the heroic efforts of his wife
Melissa, who found him, and hospital staff, King needed a neurosurgeon.
The nearest at the time was in Boise.
"Typically these patients don’t do
well," said St. Alphonsus Life Flight Director Stan Rose, who attended
the hospital reception to recognize Sivertson and celebrate King’s life.
Standing around the stretcher in
Shoshone, the medical personnel were preparing Melissa King for the
worst. Then Sivertson decided to take a drastic measure: He relieved the
pressure on King’s brain by drilling a hole in his skull with a Makita
drill, a power tool found on most construction sites.
"It sounds like an outrageous
cowboy move," Sivertson said. "But, it was a calculated risk. We will
risk a lot to save a life."
Sivertson received accolades for
his heroics at the packed reception. Those attending included people
representing many branches of emergency and medical services in the Wood
River Valley and Boise, city and county government officials and the
Sivertson doesn’t call what he did
"Idaho is one of the last places
you can find (where) you’re entitled to do yourself harm," he said,
explaining that medical attention, especially emergency medical help can
not reach victims here as quickly as it might in a large city. "If
you’re counting on getting a second chance, forget it. You don’t get to
choose how you die. You get a chance to choose how you live. Your life
can change just that quickly," he said, snapping his fingers.
Sivertson said, for example, if a
person who is allergic to bees gets stung at the blinking light at the
intersection of State Highway 75 and U.S. 20. and has a systemic
reaction, he or she will die. Emergency services would not be able to
get that person to a hospital in time.
Despite the inherent risks of
living in a rural state, both Sivertson and the reception emcee Joe
Levitch, a life flight paramedic, said that King’s life was saved in a
feat of cooperation.
"(This celebration) is to show
what it looks like when everything happens happily ever after," Levitch
said. He added that being solely responsible for saving someone’s life,
even for a paramedic, rarely happens.
"This (lifesaving rescue was)
really an isolated event," said Vince DiGaeano, the life flight pilot
who flew King to Boise. "Keith showing up wasn’t."
As part of the reception, Makita
T-shirts were exchanged, and Sivertson received a Makita drill with a
plaque attached to the box for his efforts. Sun Valley Fire Chief Jeff
Carnes read a proclamation from Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson declaring
April 22 Keith Sivertson Day for all his work over the years in
improving emergency services.
In addition to a Makita T-shirt
with autographs of everyone who contributed to saving King’s life,
Sivertson also gave the survivor a Makita baseball cap with a bull’s eye
by the temple for any future emergencies.
"I owe my life to everybody here,"
King said, including his wife, the first person he saw when he awoke. "I
owe my life to you. I feel fantastic."