A scary fall, a complete recovery
Man who fell from the Middle Teton in 2011 is back in college.
Haymaker was evacuated by helicopter to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, where he remained in a coma for 18 days. When he woke, he spent six months in a “dream world ” before coming out of the haze. COURTESY PHOTOView our entire photo gallery >>
By Miller N. Resor, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 31, 2012
Ryan Haymaker was descending the Ellingwood Couloir of the Middle Teton in July 2011 when he slipped and fell 1,200 feet down the slope, slamming into a boulder field at the bottom.
He fractured a femur, a patella, his pelvis and three vertebrae, collapsed both lungs and sustained major head trauma. He was in a coma for 18 days.
This autumn, Haymaker is biking, is back at school and is hoping to snowboard this winter.
“I’m just thankful every day to be alive,” he said. “So many people helped to save my life. I am so grateful.”
In fact, the quick and skilled response at the scene played an important role in his miraculous recovery.
Chris Figenshau, an Exum guide, and his client Kinsey Phillips had stopped at the base of the Ellingwood Couloir for a water break that day. Figenshau was pointing out the couloir to Phillips when he first spotted Haymaker.
Moments later, he saw Haymaker fall down the couloir.
Haymaker plummeted from near the top of the couloir to within a couple hundred feet of Figenshau and Phillips. When they reached Haymaker, he was face down, unconscious and hyperventilating, Figenshau said.
Figenshau cleared Haymaker’s airway and did a quick assessment.
“It was pretty obvious he was in big trouble,” he said. “He had large signs of trauma and a massive head wound.”
Figenshau saw the severity of Haymaker’s injuries. He decided to leave Phillips, who happened to be a veterinarian, with Haymaker, and ran to the saddle between the Middle and South Teton to call for help.
En route to the saddle, Figenshau encountered Marilynn Davis, an owner and instructor for Jackson Hole Outdoor Leadership Institute, and her husband, Jacob Urban, a member of Teton County Search and Rescue.
Calling for help
They made a plan. Davis — who also works for Jackson Hole Fire/EMS, teaches outdoor emergency care and is a wilderness first responder — would go to Haymaker. Urban would accompany Figenshau to the saddle, carrying a second cellphone from another service carrier to try to contact emergency personnel.
Davis spent the next hour clearing blood and fluid from Haymaker’s air passage to keep him alive, while Figenshau and Urban desperately tried to alert authorities in the valley.
When they finally made contact, they returned to the scene of the accident to help Davis.
“It’s kind of unbelievable he pulled through,” Urban said. “It was evident that he had some serious will to live. He did all the hard work, by keeping himself alive. We just created the platform.”
Rich Baerwald, a Jenny Lake ranger with the Park Service, arrived by helicopter and took in the situation.
“He was breathing well, they had wrapped him in jackets to keep him warm and prevent shock,” he said. “All we had to do was immobilize him and get him to the valley.”
Accompanying Baerwald were Darin Jernigan, Molly Tyson and Jack McConnell, all Jenny Lake rangers.
The group loaded Haymaker onto the helicopter and flew him to Lupine Meadows, where Dr. Will Smith, the emergency medical coordinator for Teton County Search and Rescue, had everything ready.
Haymaker was transferred from the park helicopter to a helicopter from Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.
Baerwald said the entire rescue was a “big team effort.”
“It was pretty impressive the entire team that was involved,” he said. “Everybody and anybody, medically speaking, who was in the valley was there.”
Haymaker was taken to Idaho Falls, where he was treated immediately for his broken femur, which was in danger of causing major bleeding. It was several days before doctors could treat the three broken vertebrae in his neck.
He spent four weeks in the Idaho Falls ICU before being moved to a regular patient room.
Eventually he was transferred to the Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research in Houston, his home town. It’s the same rehabilitation hospital U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords visited to recover from her gunshot to the head.
Stuck in a ‘dream world’
Haymaker’s most persistent and ultimately serious injury came from the head wound that caused bleeding in his left frontal lobe. He didn’t have a single memory for two to three weeks after he woke from the coma.
“It was weird, definitely really weird,” he said.
For six months he lived in a dream world.
“I was still kind of confused about what happened,” he said. “My brain thought everything was a dream. People would tell me what happened and I didn’t believe them. That was the worst part of it, the dream world.”
It was January when he finally emerged from the fog. He said he found motivation to regain his memories and mobility in his family and friends.
This autumn he returned to Texas Tech for his junior year. He is studying restaurant and hotel management. It was an internship with Jackson Lake Lodge Company that brought him to Jackson in the first place.
He hopes to be able to come back to the valley.
“I would just like to give thanks to all the people who helped rescue me,” he said.