Air Force

July 13, 2012

Doctor provides life-saving medical care despite broken leg

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By Master Sgt. Kelley J. Stewart
99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Jeremy Kilburn, 99th Medical Operations Squadron Cardio/Pulmonary Flight commander and Intensive Care Unit director, oversees operations in the Mike O’Callaghan Federal Medical Center’s ICU. Kilburn was a patient-turned-rescuer last week after breaking his leg in a hiking incident. In need of medical evacuation, Kilburn took action when a paramedic from the California Highway Patrol rescue helicopter was struck in the head by a rotor.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – A 34-year-old critical care pulmonologist assigned to the 99th Medical Operations Squadron here went from needing rescue to providing emergency medical attention to a California Highway Patrol officer July 5 near Big Bear Lake in the Shasta Trinity Forest.

Maj. (Dr.) Jeremy Kilburn, 99th MDOS Cardio/Pulmonary Flight commander and Intensive Care Unit director, was on vacation with his dog, Virgil, and childhood friend, Dan Grasso.

The events of that day began when Kilburn was returning from a hike. As he neared his tent, he stopped to take in the view, and Virgil bumped into him. The bump caused the doctor to lose his footing, and as he stepped forward to catch himself, he turned his ankle.

“I looked down and was staring at the bottom of my foot,” he said.

Kilburn knew he’d dislocated his ankle and broken his leg, so he sat down, took off his boot and put his foot back into place. Then he called out to his friend for assistance.

A fellow camper also heard Kilburn call out, and he and Grasso came to his assistance. The camper was leaving the camp ground that day and said he’d let the authorities know medical assistance was needed on his way out.

Grasso helped Kilburn to his tent to get him out of the sun. While they waited, two camp counselors, Elizabeth Fitch and Bryce Harbert, and a group of 9- to 14-year-old children hiking with them came along. The group used their radio to call back to their camp to have someone there call for a CHP helicopter to get Kilburn to medical care. Then the group stayed to wait with Kilburn and Grasso.

Kilburn couldn’t see the helicopter landing from where he was sitting, but he could see the children watching it come in to land.

“They were clapping,” the major said because the pilot had done a “brilliant job of landing” in very difficult terrain. Then the doctor heard the children saying things like, “Oh my God,” but didn’t understand why until Grasso came running up the hill saying he thought the CHP officer was dead.

CHP Officer Tony Stanley, had been struck in the head by the main rotor blade of the helicopter.

The first thing out of Kilburn’s mouth was, “Get me down there.”

With Grasso’s help, he managed to hobble his way to Stanley’s side. The counselors had already put their basic first aid knowledge into practice by applying direct pressure to the officer’s head wound. Kilburn assessed the situation and stabilized the patient’s airway to assist him with breathing.

Due the seriousness of the CHP officer’s injuries, the doctor put a cervical collar on him and told the counselors and Grasso how to place him on a backboard.

Kilburn said the counselors and Grasso were “incredible.” Going on to say they should have been “freaking out” after what they witnessed, but everyone remained calm and did what they were told.

Fitch was impressed into acting as a flight nurse and applied pressure to Stanley’s head wound. Kilburn climbed in and monitored Stanley’s heart rate and breathing during the flight to Mercy Hospital in Redding, Calif.

When they arrived at the hospital, the medical staff took Stanley to one trauma bay and put the doctor in the one next to him. “The doctors said they could fix my leg there or I could have it done in Las Vegas,” Kilburn said.

The doctor chose to have the leg stabilized and have the surgery to fix his break done in Las Vegas.

Kilburn says he isn’t comfortable being called a hero. He feels the heroes are the counselors and Grasso who remained calm and did as he instructed them to do, and the children who volunteered to hike his gear, the equipment taken off the helicopter to fit everyone in it, and Stanley’s gear out of the camp ground.

“The true story is the generosity of spirit that all these people came together,” he said.

Even though Kilburn doesn’t feel like a hero, the CHP is grateful for his timely medical attention to one of their own.

“Dr. Kilburn fought through his own pain to save the life of our officer, highlighting the dedication of our military that put their lives on the line every day for our country. Dr. Kilburn’s actions were clearly above and beyond the call of duty,” said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. “These individuals are not only heroes, they are guardian angels.”

Stanley remains hospitalized at Mercy Medical Center.




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