The sun was making a break for the horizon one warm summer evening, and Chelsie Bullock was with her childhood friend Brittany Taylor, cruising down the road near their hometown.
“Me and my best friend were supposed to be going to the fair, one of the funnest places that you can be in the world,” said Brittany, standing on the same rural stretch, years later, where their lives changed forever. “And it was tragically cut short by a one-ton truck coming through this intersection.”
That one-ton truck slammed into the side of their car, barely avoiding a direct hit with Chelsie’s door, tearing off most of the vehicle’s rear half.
Moments later, an ambulance happened upon the scene while rushing to a different emergency. Its crew stopped to help, ensuring another ambulance was sent to the initial call.
Chelsie’s mom, Alyson Scoville, so far unaware of the crash, was driving home when the ambulance zipped by her with its lights and sirens engaged.
“I’d never said this before,” she recalled, “but I said, ‘Somebody’s life is changing today.’ I didn’t know it was mine, or my daughter’s, or our family’s.”
Chelsie and Brittany were both taken to the nearest rural hospital, but Chelsie urgently needed care at a trauma centre more than a two-hour drive away.
With a badly bruised lung and several broken ribs, no one wanted to chance that kind of trip, so STARS was called to make the transfer.
Transport physician Dr. Saul Pytka, an anesthesiologist, flew on the mission to ensure the best care possible for Chelsie’s specific situation.
“Her two problems interacted with one another quite significantly,” he said. “Her ribs had punctured the lung and allowed air to leak out and leak into the cavity in her chest. That interfered with oxygen supply to her body and particularly to her brain.
“We have the ability, fortunately, in the back of the helicopter, to adjust the breathing that we provide for her, monitor for the pressures, monitor for proper oxygenation and breathing for her, to provide her with the best possible circumstances for brain recovery.”
Flight nurse Alexis Mageau, also an emergency room nurse, was on the mission and knew exactly why STARS was integral to giving Chelsie the best chance.
“Chelsie was severely injured,” said Alexis. “She needed an intensive care unit (during the transfer). We were the flying intensive care unit that she needed between (the rural hospital and trauma centre).”
So began a long, arduous journey of recovery for Chelsie.
“It was not very fun,” she said, telling her story a decade later. “I had to relearn to walk. One of my knees would always snap back, so there would have to be a physio person in front of me and a physio person behind me just catching my knee, making sure it wouldn’t snap back.”
Many other simple activities also had to be relearned, like the ability to talk due to being left with paralyzed and semi-paralyzed vocal chords.
The accident happened just before Chelsie’s high school graduation. She has since become married and had two daughters, and she continues to work on her recovery today. She exercises regularly to retain the basic strength she needs to function, and she’s left with breathing difficulties that don’t make the effort any easier.
Despite the challenges, her attitude is positive.
“My motto is, ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ she said. “This car accident happened for a reason, I’m where I am for a reason, and I feel like I’m more compassionate and loving and kind because… I can be more sympathetic to other people who have limitations.”
Her family is grateful for the role STARS and its numerous allies played in her recovery.
“We like to give STARS credit for getting her there safely and with the great medical team that was with her,” said Alan Scoville, Chelsie’s dad. “There were ICU personnel and therapists and doctors and nurses all the way along that were all part of it.”
Chelsie has visited the STARS base a few times, and has met a couple of the crew members who were on her call. She also has a growing collection of STARS fundraising merchandise.
“Without STARS, who’s to say I would even be here?” she said. “Because of the trained people that were there, even the pilots and the medical people that were with me on that little tiny helicopter — it’s really small — they helped me, and really, if it wasn’t for them I might not be alive. And so I think they’re amazing.”
For flight paramedic Chad Hegge, reuniting with patients like Chelsie is one of the highlights of working at STARS.
“It’s a real rewarding part of the job to see that some of the things we do hopefully do make a difference,” he said. “I feel fortunate to be able to help people out in their hour of need, and knowing that people have a good outcome as a result of that and can go on and live normal, productive lives — I’m grateful that I can play a role in that.”