Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Trauma conference coming to Sun Valley

New event blossomed from Teresa Hukari injury

Express Staff Writer

Karoline Droege, left, and Colleen Coyne, right, put Teresa Hukari through her paces at Zenergy in Ketchum. Photo by David N. Seelig

In early March of this year, Ketchum resident and Smith Optics employee Teresa Hukari was enjoying a day of skiing on Bald Mountain with friends. By that evening, her life had changed. A sudden fall into a tree fractured several vertebrae in her neck, severely disabling the enthusiastic athlete.

An accomplished skier, climber, cyclist and paddler, Hukari's physical fitness at the time of her accident was a cornerstone of her survival, she said. But other factors were involved at the time of her accident as well.

Dr. Keith Siverston was on duty at St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center when Hukari arrived. Dr. Rick Moore, who has a home in Sun Valley, happened to be in town. Though associated with St. Alphonsus in Boise, he came to the emergency room to see her at the behest of Ketchum resident Pat Higgins, as did Dr. Tim Floyd of the Boise Orthopedic Clinic. She was then life-flighted to St. Alphonsus, where her prime caregiver was neurosurgeon Dr. Kenneth Little.

Although Hukari's life was saved, all the doctors involved realized it was an opportunity to tweak emergency responses in similar situations in the future.

On Friday and Saturday, Nov. 3 and 4, the first Ski & Mountain Trauma Conference will be held in Sun Valley. Drs. Moore, Siverston, Floyd and Frederick Foss of St. Alphonsus will all speak at the conference on Saturday. A full complement of smaller lab sessions will be on Friday.

"Based on their experiences with Teresa, they said, 'Let's have a conference to discuss procedures. We're going to make some good come of this,'" Hukari's friend Brian Barsotti said. "It's not a critique of the care at St. Luke's, but there are opportunities to learn to do better."

Lou Whittaker, a renowned mountain climber, will also talk. He is a charter member of the Mountain Rescue Council and an honorary member of the Armed Forces 10th Mountain Division. Hukari will give closing comments.

All Sun Valley Resort ski patrollers have been offered scholarships. Others invited include first responders, heli-ski guides, coaches, and backcountry and river guides.

The mission for participants is to learn from trauma surgeons and emergency specialists how to most effectively administer care to critical patients trapped in remote and wilderness locations.

"Rick Moore hopes this will be the best mountain trauma conference in the country," Hukari said. "The circumstances (with me) were the catalyst."

For Hukari, the conference is but one cog in the wheel of her recovery. Paralyzed from the waist down, she spends 10 hours a week in therapy with trainers Colleen Coyne and Karoline Droege. She also trains at the Sagebrush Equine Center for the Handicapped and at home on a functional electrical stimulation bike. The bike works the hamstrings, quadriceps, and gluteus maximus, medius and minimus muscles.

"If there's ever a cure, the muscles will be ready," she said with the wide, bright smile that is her trademark.

However, there are other issues that continue to drag the progress of her recovery. In the six months since her accident, her insurance benefits are half gone. The Web site,, is maintained by her family. It includes photos, a blog and an opportunity to donate.

Her other pet project is equally close to the heart. A Hoedown for Hukari held in Sun Valley in April raised money to help with her recovery and planted the seeds for what became the Bald Mountain Rescue Fund. With a touch of maudlin humor, Hukari dubbed the new organization "Bummer."

Barsotti, Robyn Morelli and Tim Hamilton are the sole board members. The organization is intended to help people who have catastrophic accidents in a myriad of ways. Since going through it themselves this year, the members and Hukari were aware that when something happens it lands on friends, family and coworkers to sort out what to do next. For the most part they don't know how to begin the process of organizing health care, throwing a benefit, finding living space and a host of other issues.

The organization will be a conduit in the event of a crisis. For instance, there is software being developed for such an occurrence.

The plan is for Hukari to be the organization's executive director and run it, Barsotti said. Before that can happen, however, Hukari will attend two programs in California to continue outpatient rehabilitation work. Each program maintains that the treatment and rehabilitation done in the first year is the difference between success and failure in the future.

"Recovery is possible any time, mostly in the first year," Hukari said. "Then I'll come back here and see what's possible. Hopefully my endurance and stamina will be much improved. I'll go to work, have a life."

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