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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2004


ER doc, rescue celebrated

Improv procedure saves the day

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 Shoshone.

The next time they saw him was Friday, April 23, at a reception at St. Lukeís Wood River Medical Center in Ketchum. The event was organized by the hospital to recognize Dr. Kieth Sivertson, St. Lukeís emergency department director, and the extensive medical effort that went into saving Kingís life.

Ben and Melissa King join Dr. Keith Sivertson at a St. LukeĎs celebration of a procedure Sivertson did with a Makita drill to save Ben Kingís life in December. Express photo by Matt Furber

In Erdmann and Pattersonís 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. Lukeís 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 donít do well," said St. Alphonsus Life Flight Director Stan Rose, who attended the hospital reception to recognize Sivertson and celebrate Kingís 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 Kingís 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 King family.

Sivertson doesnít call what he did heroics, however.

"Idaho is one of the last places you can find (where) youíre 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 youíre counting on getting a second chance, forget it. You donít 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 Kingís 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 someoneís 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 wasnít."

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 Kingís life, Sivertson also gave the survivor a Makita baseball cap with a bullís 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."


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.