Peter Casey – When an Alaska Flight Paramedic Gets Injured
The story of Peter Casey, an Alaska flight paramedic who was airlifted after he broke his neck snowboarding
I just laid there in the snow, board facing down the hill. I was scared. Thoughts started flashing through my head, “Could I be paralyzed? How would I take care of my family?” Time became relative. The biggest thing I felt—pardon my language—was “this just sucks.”
How did I get here?
It was late February. My wife Stacey, our kiddo Grayson and I were in Alyeska on the “stay and ski free” package. The conditions were O.K. Nothing amazing. We snowboarded all day, had a nice dinner, and went to bed—nothing out of the ordinary, including the suboptimal conditions.
The next morning, we were greeted with a clear, bluebird day. It had snowed overnight. The slopes were covered in fresh powder. We were going to leave, but I told my wife and my kid, “I have to go down just one more time.” I left them at the cabin to take the lift to the top.
At the top of the mountain, I popped my music in. I was just enjoying the view on my way down when I came up to a crossroads. I chose to go left toward a glacier bowl. As I was on my way down one side of the bowl, I glanced up and to the right. Right at that moment, the tip of my board hit something under the snow.
Now, I have been snowboarding since I was 14. This was not the first time I had biffed. Unfortunately, the fall was completely unexpected and I did not have time to tuck and roll. I had been going about 20 miles per hour, and I was flung end-over-end about 15-20 feet down the hill. I landed on my head.
My neck snapped to the left. I heard it snap—it was a loud CRACK! I was in immediate, agonizing pain. My entire right arm was numb. As a medical professional, I knew this meant that I had broken my neck fairly high.
That was when I laid in the snow.
After an indefinite amount of time, I regained control over my mind and decided to perform some self-testing. I felt a wash of relief when I realized that I could wiggle my toes. I was not paralyzed.
I started trying to get other people’s attention, but it was not working. I tried to sit up. It felt like someone took a taser to the end of my fingers—pain was shooting down my arms. I popped the bindings off of my board and started scooting myself down the hill to where everyone was passing by, being careful not to jostle my neck.
I was able to flag someone down to get the ski patrol. I called my wife, “pretty sure I broke my neck.” It was a very emotional phone call. In hindsight, I am not sure why I did not call someone in the first place.
The ski patrol arrived. I told them that I was a flight paramedic with LifeMed Alaska, and to call them in. I knew that I had only a short time before swelling could cause more damage.
The ski patrol got me down the mountain on a backboard. At the bottom of the hill, I met my wife at the ski shack and was transferred to the Girdwood fire department. From there, I was transferred to LifeMed.
I was relieved to see LifeMed. I felt safe. Everyone there is so good at their jobs. As a LifeMed flight paramedic myself, being on the “other side” was a change of perspective for me and I learned a lot. I was keenly aware of the efforts they made to make sure that I could see them and talk to them despite being immobilized, strapped to a backboard. I knew both of the professionals on the flight, Paul my paramedic and John my nurse. At one point, Paul scratched an itch on my nose for me. I know he would have done the same for any of our patients.
Today, I have made a full recovery. I feel so fortunate. The injury damaged one of the nerve roots to my right arm. I had lost 50% of its strength and mobility. My right arm is not 100%, but it is very close. I am back at work.
I have received incredible support from my community—the EMS community, Chugiak (where I live)—lots of donations that have helped massively with the medical bills. You may have seen the YouCaring campaign circulating on Facebook around that time. One of my coworkers even setup a meal trade. I had people I did not know showing up at my house with meals! My story was featured on Alaska news site KTVA.com.
I highly encourage you to consider the LifeMed Alaska Membership. For only $49 a year, their membership will cover you and your family for emergency medical transports throughout the year. It was the LifeMed airlift I received that made all the difference for me. If I had chosen to take a longer trip on an ambulance instead, further swelling could have caused more damage to my injured neck. But that’s not what I did, and I made a full recovery.
If you would like to learn more about “The Alaska Life” of LifeMed employees like David, another Alaska flight paramedic, read The Makings of an #AKHero.