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Heroic efforts save man having heart attack at Yosemite

Post by Jeff Mayor / The News Tribune on April 5, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
April 5, 2011 12:22 pm

While checking for news from our own national parks, I came across this story out of Yosemite National Park. I thought some folks would find the effort made to save a heart attack victim a good story.

Here is the news release:

A winter storm that began on the night of Friday, March 18, continued into the following week, dropping heavy snow throughout the park. By the following Monday morning, the Wawona District and nearby community of Fish Camp had received between two and three feet of snow. Highway 41, the only road leading into the park’s South Entrance, was closed and impassible due to power line and tree failures outside of the park, leaving Fish Camp residents and guests at the Tenaya Lodge stranded.

Around 11 a.m., dispatch received a 911 call from the Tenaya Lodge, reporting that a 61-year-old man was experiencing chest pain. Because county responders could not get to the hotel, ranger/paramedic Heidi Schlichting responded from Wawona. She reached the man about 15 minutes later, along with a Cal Fire paramedic from Fish Camp, Mark Spencer.

An assessment of the patient revealed that he had a history of heart problems and that, due to the nature of his symptoms, he was likely having another cardiac event. Immediate transport was warranted, but weather conditions made this an extremely difficult option.

An air evacuation was accordingly ordered. A CHP helicopter flew to the area, but was unable to find an adequate landing zone due to the terrain and inclement weather.

While the helicopter was circling, Schlichting and Spencer began transporting the patient in her patrol car, hoping to somehow meet up with an ambulance. Pushing through over two feet of snow and maneuvering around stuck motorists, Schlichting drove until she encountered a tree across the road. Using hand and chain saws to clear trees and debris, she slowly made her way down the road, while still maintaining patient care, which included administration of emergency cardiac medications. She was assisted by NPS forestry tech Brian Mattos and NPS fire personnel Taro Pusina and Eric Neiswanger, whose sawyer expertise was invaluable in clearing approximately 15 trees in very difficult conditions.

It took about an hour-and-a-half for the party to travel approximately two miles, where they encountered power lines down across the road, making it impossible to continue. While waiting for a PG&E utilities crew to reach them to clear the lines, they began devising a plan to extricate the patient over the snow. A Madera County Search and Rescue snow cat arrived on the opposite side of the downed lines and assisted with transporting the man to a waiting ambulance. It took four hours to reach the ambulance.

The man was then transported by ambulance to Oakhurst and flown to St. Agnes Hospital in Fresno, where he subsequently underwent triple bypass surgery.

Dispatchers Ansley Rothell and Nancy Bissmeyer played a key role in maintaining communications and coordinating efforts of all involved personnel. Without the efforts and coordination between the involved agencies, including the NPS, Cal Fire MMU, Sierra National Forest, Mariposa County, Madera County, CHP, and CAL Trans, the man would likely not have survived.

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