Imagine being in a remote area of the Adirondack Mountains with a companion when you hear something like a scream as a storm approaches and darkness falls. Few people would instinctively know what to do or call themselves to respond.
Ava Apolo ’25 and Julia Leet ’22, however, encountered this scenario as leaders this fall on LandSea, Kalamazoo College’s outdoor pre-orientation program that takes place before freshmen arrive on the campus. They said the cry had the harmless intonation of a bird’s call that Boy Scouts are known to use in the area, but it could also have been a sign of an emergency.
“We had set up camp at a place called High Rock, which is close to a canoe waterway,” Apolo said. “At first we were like, ‘Who’s making that noise?'”
They decided to investigate. That’s when they found a woman who had fallen, leaving a seven to eight inch gash on her leg that exposed a bone. Her adult daughter had screamed when she found her mother lying on the ground. The women had few valuable supplies, no cell service, and no way to get help other than the two LandSea representatives.
“We determined it was safe for us to help, so Julia was first to their location with a medical kit and I followed right after,” Apolo said.
Apolo and Leet knew exactly what to do. Both received wilderness medical training that they were grateful to have as part of their preparations for LandSea.
“Our patient wasn’t panicking and she communicated very well with us, which was helpful,” Apolo said. “Julia was the first on the patient, putting pressure on the wound, and I had a Garmin which allowed us to keep in touch with our directors. We also have the option to press SOS, which gave us a countdown and allowed us to speak with our admins and emergency response. I had never had an experience with a real medical response like that. At first I was panicking inside, but I had to quickly flip a switch to take action.
The accident victim’s husband arrived at the scene as it started to rain. Apolo and Leet had to cover their patient and start thinking about what they might need to treat while thinking about an evacuation plan.
“I really felt like our training was starting,” Leet said. “We were following a script, except it was real life. We were taking her vital signs, making sure our patient was as comfortable as possible. The family had arrived in a canoe and they couldn’t go out in a canoe in the dark.
Many of these judgment calls were determined by Leet’s conversation with the fall victim.
“We were taught that when someone falls you have to be really sure they haven’t hit their head because that can cause the most serious injuries and you don’t often notice the signs of a head injury. head until much later, when it may be too late,” Leet said. “I was constantly asking him, ‘Are you sure you didn’t hit your head?’ and I was checking his LOC, which is the level of consciousness. If it starts to drop, that’s an indication that there might be some kind of internal trauma to the brain.
Their other concerns were about the victim’s blood loss and loss of sensation in his feet.
“She had a pretty big wound and I didn’t know what could have been cut,” Leet said. “I was constantly checking the movements, the circulation in his feet and stopping the bleeding.”
More than two hours after the rescue operations began, emergency medical services arrived in all-terrain vehicles.
“We had two fire department chiefs show up, two paramedics (emergency medical technicians), a park ranger and volunteers,” Apolo said. “Volunteers did the heavy lifting by getting her up on a backboard.”
Once down the hill, the victim was taken away in a US Army helicopter.
“No private companies allowed helicopters at the time and the military donated their services,” Apolo said. “Because of this, the patient and her family did not have to pay the thousands in hospital fees that a helicopter ride to the hospital would require.”
At this point, Apolo and Leet had finished their work. The family and first responders congratulated the K duo and expressed their appreciation.
“When they came down they were prepared for the worst case scenario,” Apolo said. “They realized her bleeding was stable, so they relaxed for a second, but still quickly managed to get her to evacuate. They said we had done a good job and there was nothing different to do as Julia had also cleaned the wound once the bleeding had stopped. They complimented us and the chef departments acknowledged on social media that we responded, which was really cool.
“Once the first responders arrived, we were pretty much uninterested,” Leet added. “We didn’t want to be in the way, which was rather odd because we had spent a few hours talking to someone and felt like we knew a lot about their life. We knew then that we wouldn’t see her again. Never again. The girl expressed her gratitude to us, as did the fire chiefs, and then we tried to continue our night.
All that remained was the debriefing. LandSea and Outdoor Programs Director Jory Horner and Assistant Outdoor Programs Director Jess Port had minimal information about the emergency after receiving the SOS. It was therefore necessary to update them, as well as the logistics managers of LandSea.
“The only information Jess and Jory got when we pressed the SOS button on the Garmin was, ‘Patrol B1 pressed SOS,'” Apolo said. “They don’t get information about who was involved, so at first they were worried it was a participant. When this was not the case, it reduced their stress level. It was new for them to see how EMS brought in their response teams.
During this time, the freshmen were aware of what had happened, but kept away from the scene, which helped calm each other down. As soon as the fall victim was evacuated, Apolo and Leet had dinner with the freshmen and briefed them on what had happened.
“When we had a group debrief, they didn’t express their distress at the situation; it affirmed that they were not strongly affected by it and were largely separate from what had happened,” Apolo said.
Yet for the two wilderness emergency responders, the crisis was a life-changing experience within the already life-altering experience of LandSea.
“Having the experience helped me know how a similar experience might affect me emotionally, and also what I might want to consider more in an emergency in the future such as weather and keeping the patient warm,” said Apolo, a biochemistry major who is considering medical school and a career in emergency medicine or women’s health. “I would definitely feel better prepared if I needed to do it again in the future.”
“I think it’s good proof that I can do tough things,” Leet said. “I was a double major in psychology and Spanish. I want to become a marriage and family therapist and pursue graduate studies in psychology. While it’s not always a medical crisis, a mental health crisis isn’t all that different in how you respond to it, so I think that was great practice for me. This kind of scenario tests your ability to stay strong and communicative, while making the right choices as best you can.
LandSea Director Appreciation
“This accident had many conditions that made it very difficult: unstable weather and intermittent thunderstorms; a long rescue that lasted late into the evening, well after dark; and manage both their own group of students and a patient outside of their group, nearly 4 miles on a trail in a designated wilderness area, which does not allow motorized vehicles. Despite these challenges, Ava and Julia did a great job. They remained calm, cared for the patient and her family, communicated important information to be sent using their satellite messenger, and ensured that their own group remained safe and comfortable in stormy conditions during the multi-hour event. These are the types of situations our leaders practice during the nine-day wilderness first responder training they attend as part of their role as LandSea Trip Leader, but managing a real patient and all the variables of an extended outdoor evacuation still present many challenges. The Star Lake and Cranberry Lake Fire and Rescue crews who responded to the scene and evacuated the patient to the trailhead made extensive comments about their impression of Ava and Julia’s response and treatment at the scene. . From our perspective, we were also grateful that they and the DEC rangers were able to help us with the difficult job of evacuating the patient to the trailhead. After the trip ended a few days later, we wanted to debrief their group to see if the students needed to process what happened that day. Apparently Ava and Julia did such a good job of staying calm and keeping their group comfortable during the rescue that the students on the trip seemed a bit confused which day we were talking about even when we were talking about ‘the incident’ that they lived. This, to me, was a real indication of how well they behaved – that they could juggle the various responsibilities of that day so well that for the students in their group, it was like “just another day “.
— Jory Horner, Director of LandSea and Outdoor Programs