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--