Monday, March 9, 2009

The Flight Nurse's Story

For over two months we had no idea who she was. Then a doctor friend put out the word around LifeFlight, and discovered who it was who had saved Brooke's life. She came to visit us Wednesday evening, February 18, 2009, in Brooke's room in Rehab at the University Hospital. This account is based on verbatim notes taken by Peggy, and has been reviewed by the flight nurse and put on the blog with her permission.

The flight nurse's name is Denise Ward. She lives in an apartment house on 2nd Avenue, right at the base of City Creek Canyon, with her new husband. Denise is 5’1” and weighs 110 pounds. She has shoulder-length reddish-brown hair, and the color of her skin is uncannily like Brooke’s, and his sister’s—she could be Brooke’s sister, or his daughter.
She comes from California originally, from an LDS background, and her maiden name was Evans. She comes from English and Welsh heritage, with a little bit of German mixed in. At the age of 22, her first husband was killed in an explosion at an explosives plant near Utah Lake. They had a 5-month-old child. Her husband’s bodily remains were never found.
She has been a nurse for 24 years, and a flight nurse for 14 years. She works two days a week in the helicopters or planes, and another two days a week as a nurse practitioner in the respiratory ICU at Intermountain Medical Center.
In 2003 LifeFlight had two crashes: in the first one the pilot and paramedic were killed and the nurse had a spinal cord injury (though is now walking); 6 months later there was another crash, in Olympus Cove. Denise was in this helicopter. The pilot was killed but the paramedic and she survived. She remembers: Get in safe crash position.
She went back to flying a week later.

She likes flying, she tells us, the spurts of intensity. But in respiratory she likes getting to know the patients.

On the day of Brooke’s accident, she got started a little late on her customary jog up City Creek Canyon, and turned around at the mile marker, earlier than her usual turnaround point. She says Brooke must have passed her going downhill on his bike just minutes before the crash, but she didn’t notice anything. There were people standing around when she got to the site of the crash—and she could see that there must have been a big impact: the other guy’s bike was broken in two.
Brooke’s body was lying face down, partly on the pavement, his face in the dirt. He wasn’t breathing. Brooke himself remembers mouthing, “I can’t breathe.” He was purple, purple, she said, gesturing to indicate his entire face and trunk. “We need to turn him over, get him an airway.” His helmet was pushed back, and she wondered if it was the strap that was causing him not to breathe. The people standing around were afraid to touch him or move him; one of them said, “Do you know anything medical, I think this guy’s really hurt.” She says she’s kind of used to taking charge of things from her work as a flight nurse, so she and someone else logrolled him over onto his back. She asked if anybody among the bystanders knew CPR, and one man volunteered. She did jaw thrust, got the airway open, did chest compressions; he did mouth-to-mouth. He took a couple of breaths after they started chest compressions, but did not have a complete return of spontaneous breathing. He was definitely not awake.

She said about Brooke that he was to the point where his heart was stopping; he might have had a pulse, slowing down, but her hands were really cold and it was hard to tell. She knew that if she hadn’t shown up then, it would have been too late, there would have been anoxic brain damage, and as it was she worried that she might already be too late.

It seemed like forever, she said, before the ambulance arrived; according to someone else, it was about 7 minutes. There’s no cellphone reception in the canyon, so someone had biked down to the bottom to phone 911. About six or seven paramedics arrived, placed a temporary airway and a C collar, strapped him onto a backboard, bagging him all the time, and took him off to the hospital. The didn’t take her name, and they didn’t know Brooke’s name, since he was in his biking clothes and had no identification; he was admitted to the ER under the codename Trauma Denali.

When she thanked the guy who did CPR, he said, “Glad my Boy Scout training came in handy.”

Somewhere in this narrative, while Denise is telling this story, Brooke has told her how much he loves her, what a saint she is, even though he doesn’t mean that in a religious sense. He’s immensely grateful to her not only for saving his life, as we’ve all been for the two-and-a-half months when we didn’t know who she was, but now also for helping him reconstruct what happened. And our sense is that this meeting is not just one of profound significance for Brooke and Peggy, but for Denise too: she gets to see the outcome of what her work is—what happens to a patient whom she’s rescued, and especially in this case, how deeply glad he is to be alive.

PS: If you have any messages for Denise or just want to thank her too, you can post a comment right on this blog--I'm sure she'll see it--


Jake B. said...

Hi Brooke and Peggy,

It's Jacob the aid from Rehab 2. Someone at work clued me in that you had a blog. I just spent the last 2 hours reading every post and I must say I truly admire the courage and love both of you have. To know that I was able to help in Brooke's recovery is inspiring.

Peggy - Please give my regards to Brooke and let him know that we miss him. I hope I can come help in the garden sometime!!!

I hope that I can have as much of a profound impact as this flight nurse did on our community!! Props to her taking control of the situation and doing what she was trained to do.

Brenda Cowley said...

Thank you, Denise!
Brenda Cowley

CMD said...

Peggy and Brooke: Denise Ward is a good friend of ours andwe just learned of Brooke's accident from her recently. She IS a wonderful person, and was profoundly affected by her meeting with you. Your grace and courage and remarkable and inspiring. We will be hoping for the best. Chrisdtine and George Durham I

coryb said...

I was a student of Brooke's twenty years ago and remember his Victorian novel class well. He was a wonderful and caring teacher. I am most thankful that the flight nurse was able to save Brooke's life. Her story is very touching and inspiring as well.

Best wishes.

Cory Bauman

Mary R. said...

I can imagine it all--City Creek Canyon, Brooke riding his bike--but it's so very surreal, like something out of a Garcia Marquez story: unbelievable yet frighteningly real.

Ellen B said...

Thought you might be interested in this response from the quadraplegic who had posted his Kindle review on Amazon's review blog. I had posted the question about inventing a stand that would facilitate Brooke's use of the device. I don't know if this response from him is useful or not, but here it is:

E. Brady, I believe the Kindle will be perfect for your friend. I don't think he needs any special inventions. ""

The website above is an up-close picture of how I hold the Kindle. The cover I use on the Kindle is the one manufactured by Amazon, and by flipping the front cover all the way to the back it makes the device a little easier to maneuver without the dexterity of your fingers.

Just sitting the head of the bed up a little, and putting a pillow on his midsection, so the book stays tilted up will take care of the neck or eye strain.

Andrew said...

Hello -

I'm a former student of Brooke's and was just informed of Brooke's accident by a good friend and fellow former student.

I'd love to come see Brooke sometime, if that is possible. He remains my favorite professor - how can I not love the man who guided me to discover Whitman? I had Brooke for Shakespeare, History of Literature, and my all-time favorite class, American Autobiographies. I graduated in '05.

If it is possible that I could visit, please let me know, if possible. My email is

-Andrew Cannon

darceyr said...

Hi Brooke and Peggy - I've been meaning to write since Mom and Dad came to visit and will come see you next time we are in town, but I was moved to tears today to read of Denise's story and the movement in Brooke's legs! Just wanted you to know I am thinking of you both and am so happy that Brooke is alive and evolving!!

ed ranney said...

Hi Brooke and Peggy,

What great postings recently - the account of Denise Ward's help is really wonderful, touching and inspiring -deepest thanks to her from all Brooke's friends - so glad Brooke about your transforming the spasms to such productive exercise, and the promising, ongoing increased movement and feeling! Just keep at it! Sounds like the Bountiful Hospital is a productive next step. Just had an email from your friend Patrick, who I look forward to seeing here possibly next week! Be great to get a personal report from him, and make plans about coming up when the time is right!

love from all
Ed and Melanie

Lo Knapp said...

Brooke and Peggy,
Hello! Brooke, I know you from swimming and from physical therapy. I just received the Osher newletter and saw the article on your accident and this blog address.
What an ordeal. I am glad to read that you are getting some sensation and motor return: always a good sign.
Yes, Fight Nurses are great (I am married to one. He works at AirMed). Thank you, Denise!

My thoughts and prayers are with you. Lots of love, Lo

Veranocita said...

Thank you, Denise. Without you, all of us at rehab would not have been touched by Brooke and Peggy's wonderful spirit and courage. He has truly touched our lives here at the U.

sdeshazer said...

Hello Brooke and Peggy,
I am from Professor Trimble’s writing class and found this part of the blog most intriguing.

With the flight attendant having such a vital role in your lives have you become good friends? The other thing I wanted to ask as well was what did you feel when Denise came to visit you for the first time since your accident?

Best wishes,
Shawn DeShazer