Kelowna General Hospital Foundation facilitated the gathering of first responders and emergency medical staff to celebrate a special gift of life-saving collaboration that saved a young girl’s life who was impaled by a tree near Apex. Photo courtesy of Mike Biden

Emergency responders thanked for life-saving efforts

What started as an innocent, fun afternoon ended in a life-changing experience for a Penticton teen

What started as an innocent, fun afternoon ended in a life-changing experience for a Penticton teen.

Marissa Lemioer, 15, was riding ATVs with a group of friends near Apex on July 23, 2016 when a tree log that had been accidentally kicked up from the ground by the ATV pierced the machines’ fender. The log also ran through Lemioer’s abdomen, impaling her on the machine and running out the back of her through her armpit area — narrowly missing her heart.

The critical injury started a chain of events that would bring together a team of volunteer search and rescue first responders, British Columbia Ambulance Service Air and ground paramedics, emergency medical dispatchers as well emergency physicians with one common objective – to save a young woman’s’ life. The Kelowna General Hospital Foundation gathered the first responders and emergency medical staff to celebrate the life-saving collaboration that saved her life in this video that they released in February.

Being so far away from a community, a friend had to ride down the mountain to find cell service to call for help. Almost two hours after this serious accident occurred, the initial response joint agency task force of Penticton Search and Rescue (PENSAR) technicians and B.C. Ambulance paramedics finally located the remote mountain top location by helicopter and arrived at Lemioer’s side.

The entire Search and Medical Rescue mission was so complex, critical and time sensitive it challenged even the most seasoned of emergency response personnel.

“This incident didn’t happen a few blocks from either agency’s stations or bases of operation. This was a remote, essentially unknown location. To complicate things, we knew we had a critical time sensitive situation, with not much daylight left. If we didn’t meet our objectives in the initial operations period, our patient would in all likelihood not survive,” said B.C. Ambulance Service’s paramedic operations supervisor Glenn Braithwaite, who is also a former member of PENSAR.

For the next two hours the rescuers methodically went about stabilizing Lemioer and carefully cutting the tree away from the ATV that she was trapped in. Once this delicate manoeuver was completed Lemioer was carefully packaged into a specially designed aerial response platform stretcher and long lined beneath Eclipse Helicopters to the forward staging area. From there another team of critical care paramedics were about to arrive by helicopter air ambulance from Kamloops and then transport the teen to the skilled professionals at the KGH Emergency Department.

“We feel so grateful to be asked to meet with everyone and especially Marissa as we usually never get to see the subjects again after we turn them over to the B.C. Ambulance paramedics. I know our team is elated as we train so diligently to be prepared, to be here with our allied first responders and meet Marissa is proof that all of the hard training does pay off,” said PENSAR member and president Dale Jorgenson.

Dr. Mike Ertel, Chief of Staff at Kelowna General Hospital, was one of the key physicians on duty at the KGH Trauma Unit that day.

“Each of these special human links were critical in saving Marissa’s life. What seemed like an overwhelming search and medical rescue mission at the time has over the past nine months had a profound effect on everyone, from a young woman whose life has been saved to the impact it has had on first responders had special meaning for everyone,” he said.

The desperate 911 call for help for Lemioer was first received by the B.C. Ambulance Service’s regional communication’s centre in Kamloops and activated an intense and challenging response that would span almost five hours and involve members of PENSAR’s air evacuation team, as well as numerous emergency medical dispatchers from two B.C. Ambulance emergency communications centre’s and five teams of paramedics including B.C. Ambulances’ highly trained air ambulance critical care paramedics. A complex, coordinated response was initiated, with requests going out from the B.C. Ambulance Service to the PENSAR, Eclipse Helicopters, as well as the Penticton Regional and Kelowna General Hospitals, who were advised to prepare for Lemioer and the complex and critical injury.

Penticton and District Search and Rescue has been in operation since 1973 and its 45 members are proud of their efforts to maintain a professional service. Last year PENSAR responded to 60 tasks, of which 75 per cent were medical emergencies.