SURVIVORS: Part of a Colorado Sun series on close calls in the outdoors and life after a crisis.
His buddy was ribbing him about the big backpack he wore skiing every day.
“He was saying, ‘Man that’s dumb. When are you ever going to use that thing?’ ” said Dr. Heston LaMar, a North Carolina emergency medicine physician who likes to be prepared.
Turns out, that backpack was critical the very next day.
LaMar and his buddies were skiing Beaver Creek on a bright March afternoon when they skied up on a pair of ski patrollers working on a boy in the snow.
There’d been a collision. LaMar told the patrollers he was an ER doctor and asked if they needed help. He spotted something that made him pause.
“I was about to ski off, it seemed like everything was cool. But when they were stabilizing his left arm, he had a pretty thick ski jacket on and I saw red blood pooling below his jacket,” LaMar said. “Considering that the collision had just happened and the blood had already soaked through a jacket that thick and was already pooling in the snow, that got me pretty antsy and I wondered if it was worse than it looked.”
Charlie Voysey, 16, didn’t know how bad it was either. It was his first day of a ski vacation with his dad and younger brother. The family, from Kansas City, was getting their legs under them, prepping for the next day off the challenging Birds of Prey lift. They were racing down Larkspur, a blue run, when Charlie hit a patch of ice and tumbled, colliding with a snowboarder, who quickly stopped and helped.
Charlie didn’t think he was that hurt, but when LaMar clicked out of his skis and opened his pack, he got an inkling. The doctor pulled out a pair of trauma shears and cut off his glove and up the arm of his jacket, revealing a giant laceration that had severed arteries, ligaments and nerves in his forearm.
“I remember when he looked into that jacket, I was holding him and I could feel him tense up,” said Charlie’s dad, David. “I had Charlie in my lap and was holding his left arm. It wasn’t until we cut open his jacket that we knew how bad it was. Every beat you could see blood squirting out. Time kinda gets lost, but it seemed like within a few seconds, this guys skis up, says he’s an ER doc and whipped out his backpack.”
And what a backpack.
LaMar said it has “basic supplies.”
“I would never want to feel like I knew what to do but was helpless and didn’t have any tools to work with,” he said.
He had a Combat Application Tourniquet, but really hoped he wouldn’t need it. First he tried packing Charlie’s wound with combat gauze, which is impregnated with a blood-clotting agent.
“That’s when I got more concerned. I couldn’t feel any bone anywhere. The bone had broken in a manner that it had shattered and come apart. It was all just soft tissue and blood,” LaMar said. “He ended up with two broken bones in his arm.”
Out came the Coban stretchy gauze and LaMar wrapped Charlie’s arm tight. The ski patrollers shuffled him into a stretcher and skied him down the hill to a waiting ambulance.
“It was like he was an angel. It was like magic,” Charlie said several months later.
“Just the coincidence of it all. It’s not that he had the medical expertise and knowledge, but he had all that gear,” David said. “What a lucky break for us.”
Charlie “probably” would have been OK without his intervention, LaMar said. He is young and strong. But he could have lost a lot of blood, making his ambulance care and surgery even more difficult and intense, LaMar said.
LaMar, the medical director of health and wellness and a professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, quickly deflects any mention of the word “hero.” He didn’t get Charlie down the hill. He didn’t stabilize the teen with intranasal pain medication or do the surgery that repaired the damage.
“I’m not the hero. If there are heroes, it was the whole team. It was a team effort,” LaMar said.
Charlie is still working through rehab on his left hand. He doesn’t have much feeling in his fingers and his range of motion is limited, but the prognosis is good, David said. The family has been in contact with LaMar, sharing photos from their recent vacation.
But LaMar isn’t keen on any kind of spotlight for his work on the slopes that day. Not long ago, he was working in the ER and one of the residents told him he’d read about LaMar’s efforts on the slopes in a newspaper article. The resident said he loved to play outdoors as well and had begun carrying a pack loaded with medical tools — just in case.
“That’s another great thing to come out of this. Maybe that will spread and there will be more people out there who can be at the wrong place at the right time with all the tools they need,” LaMar said.