By Pam Witt-Hillen, flight nurse
This past summer in July, Chuck Ullman remembers getting “the call” that his son was injured in a fall and being airlifted from Stockbridge to the Trauma Center at Theda Clark. Living close to Theda Clark himself, he raced to the hospital and arrived just in time on the bridge to snap a picture of ThedaStar landing on the helipad with his son Chris on board. It occurred to him that Chris would like this picture someday. He recalls thinking that Chris’s injuries didn’t sound that serious from that initial phone call. That thought was about to change quickly. Soon he would fear for his son’s life!
Across Lake Winnebago in Stockbridge, July 25 started out like any other summer day for Chris Dettloff and his wife, Michelle. According to Chris, they “moved to Stockbridge a year ago and do not know that many people yet.” Chris recounts driving in their car that morning by the Stockbridge Fire Department and noticing everyone at the fireman and EMS picnic. Chris said, “I told my wife, if anybody gets hurt today everybody is here just ready to respond.” As irony would have it, Chris’s life would be the one saved from Stockbridge’s first responder’s training and critical decision making.
They drove home, and Chris began trimming trees. Somehow, he fell 15 feet from the tree to the ground. That fateful 911 call was made. “The Stockbridge first responders arrived Johnny-on-the-spot for me,” Chris said. The responders assessed his injuries and ThedaStar was activated.
Chris suffered broken ribs, an open fracture to his jaw, and a right wrist fracture. What couldn’t be seen on initial exam was the life-threatening traumatic rupture of his descending aorta caused by the sudden deceleration from the fall. Chris was then emergently medevaced from Theda to UW-Madison for stenting (endovascular repair) of his aorta.
Chris said, “I was off and gone to Madison before I even knew what happened to me. I don’t remember much.” Playing back the 911 tape, Chuck recalls fearing Chris might die from this. Surviving his aortic repair, Chris returned to Theda Clark for his rehabilitation.
Today both families think often about the people in Stockbridge responsible for going with their gut feeling in this time-sensitive emergency. “Their astute assessment skills and care saved Chris’s life,” said Chuck. “And for that we will always be ever so grateful!”
Chris was able to walk his daughter down the aisle this fall, and he will have a third surgery on his wrist. “Chris is a very positive guy,” Chuck said. “He and his wife, Michelle, have a granddaughter Zoe that is enamored with Chris! They have a lot of life to live yet. We are forever indebted to the good people of Stockbridge and all of Chris’s caregivers for giving us this second chance!”