Eagle-Vail man surrounded by support after crash
GYPSUM ” Howard Tuthill still doesn’t know exactly what happened right before his Suburban careened off Interstate 70 and down a steep bank and collided with a boulder on April 3.
But this holiday season, he knows he has a whole lot to feel thankful for.
“There are no words to describe my appreciation for all the help, thoughts and prayers that came from the community,” Tuthill says. “The support we have received is just phenomenal.”
It’s been a long seven months for the Tuthill family ” Howard; his wife, Lisa; and their three children, Howdy, 22, Meggie, 19 and Josie, 15. Tuthill suffered serious injuries, but today, the only evidence of trauma is the sophisticated brace strapped to his left leg.
The brace, along with other treatment, should help him become active again over the next nine to 10 months.
“I’ll be hiking into my favorite fishing holes next summer,” Tuthill says. “That’s one of the major miracles ” to have an accident like that, and I just broke a few bones.”
Tuthill was making his nightly drive home to Eagle-Vail from Columbine Market, the Gypsum grocery store he owns, when the accident occurred between Edwards and Wolcott around 7:30 p.m.
His first memory is talking to Pam Cousins, a driver who stopped just after the crash to check on Tuthill. Cousins, ironically, was a regular Columbine Market customer. Shortly thereafter, Vail firefighter Scott Bridges also stopped.
“Pam kept talking to me and kept me conscious until the EMTs got there,” Tuthill says.
He calls Cousins one of the two angels who helped him that night. The other was paramedic Tammy Peterson. When Peterson climbed down to Howard’s smashed Suburban, she knew she’d be with him for a a while.
She asked fellow EMT Andy Martin to secure Howard’s neck. Martin spent the next 45 minutes keeping Howard’s head steady. Although he had broken a C2 vertebrae located very high in the neck, his brain stem was not severed.
Tuthill had also broken his leg badly and suffered serious cuts on his face. But because of the condition and location of the vehicle, Peterson had limited options in treating him in the field. She gave him some pain medication, but she didn’t want him to lose consciousness.
“He was talking to me and that told me he was still breathing,” she says.
By the time he was cut out of the crushed vehicle, more than a dozen firefighters and paramedics were on the scene. The location of the accident was the cell phone dead zone between Wolcott and Edwards; but Colorado State Patrol and Eagle County Sheriff’s Office managed to get in touch with Tuthill’s wife.
The Tuthills don’t want to dwell on the details of the accident or the rescue, except for one aspect of their experience. “We are extremely fortunate to have the emergency services and health care we have in this community,” Howard says.
When Peterson and Martin delivered their patient to Vail Valley Medical Center, the doctors and nurses took over.
“The emergency room nurses, especially the hockey players, were amazing,” says Lisa.
Howard was fitted with a halo to keep his neck stable while his injuries healed.
“I think that was the hardest thing for everyone who knows me ” to say ‘Howard’ and ‘halo’ in the same sentence,” he says.
He remained in the device for more than three months.
Howard also spent time at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, and has undergone several surgeries during the past few months.
“We found out there are specialties with doctors we never knew existed before,” says Lisa.
Today Howard is about halfway through a rehabilitation process that will lengthen and strengthen his leg. As they work through the rehabilitation process, the Tuthills continually express their gratitude for the actions of the emergency workers the night of April 3.
Being a paramedic can be difficult and emotionally draining, says Peterson.
“But in between the bad calls, I’ve had a few saves, too,” she says. “Howard is a great example of everything working out.”
In the months since Howard’s accident, the Tuthills have been buoyed by support from family, friends and neighbors. People brought in food and stopped by to visit.
Howard’s barber and yoga instructor made house calls. A friend loaned the family his full-size van ” the only vehicle that would accommodate halo-wearning Howard.
When he ventures out to take a walk around the neighborhood or drops by the grocery store, he is amazed at how many people stop to offer well wishes.
At Columbine Market in the days following the accident, poster board get well cards were set out for people to sign. Ten poster boards, filled on the front and back, were delivered to the Tuthills.
“The crew at the store were fantastic and they continue to be. It was a very tough spot for them to be in,” says Howard. “Really, we could list a million people who have done so much for us.”
The Tuthills offered special thanks to Vail Valley Home Health Care for assistance during Howard’s convalescence. “I didn’t even know that organization existed until my car ran off the road,” says Howard. “They are a phenomenal resource for our community.”
But Howard reserves his most profound and personal thanks for his family ” for his children who stepped in to help however they could and for his wife of the past 32 years.
“I made a very good choice 32 years ago,” he says. “Truly, through this whole thing, Lisa has been remarkable.”
The Tuthills have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and they top their list with three things ” faith, family and friends.
“You always have to stay focused on what you have,” Lisa says.
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Vail’s updated plans regarding the state guidelines and isolation housing requirements is one of several pieces of information guests are waiting on heading into the 2020-21 season.