NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. â€“ 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.
â€œI looked down and was staring at the bottom of my foot,â€ he said.
Kilburn knew heâ€™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 heâ€™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 couldnâ€™t see the helicopter landing from where he was sitting, but he could see the children watching it come in to land.
â€œThey were clapping,â€ the major said because the pilot had done a â€œbrilliant job of landingâ€ in very difficult terrain. Then the doctor heard the children saying things like, â€œOh my God,â€ but didnâ€™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 Kilburnâ€™s mouth was, â€œGet me down there.â€
With Grassoâ€™s help, he managed to hobble his way to Stanleyâ€™s side. The counselors had already put their basic first aid knowledge into practice by applying direct pressure to the officerâ€™s head wound. Kilburn assessed the situation and stabilized the patientâ€™s airway to assist him with breathing.
Due the seriousness of the CHP officerâ€™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 â€œincredible.â€ Going on to say they should have been â€œfreaking outâ€ 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 Stanleyâ€™s head wound. Kilburn climbed in and monitored Stanleyâ€™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. â€œThe doctors said they could fix my leg there or I could have it done in Las Vegas,â€ 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 isnâ€™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 Stanleyâ€™s gear out of the camp ground.
â€œThe true story is the generosity of spirit that all these people came together,â€ he said.
Even though Kilburn doesnâ€™t feel like a hero, the CHP is grateful for his timely medical attention to one of their own.
â€œDr. 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. Kilburnâ€™s actions were clearly above and beyond the call of duty,â€ said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. â€œThese individuals are not only heroes, they are guardian angels.â€
Stanley remains hospitalized at Mercy Medical Center.