Healing adventurers’ far-away injuries
Vail, CO Colorado
FRISCO ” The climbing guide called on a satellite phone from halfway around the world.
A woman on a trip in a remote area of China broke her thigh bone and as the guide described what had happened, Dr. Tom Hackett, of the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail and Summit County, talked them through the situation from his home.
He told them how to stabilize the injury and fought with Chinese doctors in the area to make sure they didn’t touch her while he organized a plane to Hong Kong for surgery.
She had to get out of there, Hackett said.
“The stuff they were going to do was back from the Ming Dynasty. … It became like a diplomatic issue,” he said.
Hackett is the medical director for the American Mountain Guide Association and a world-renowned orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine doctor, who if left in the middle of the desert has the skills to survive.
In fact, he has taught military personnel survival techniques, has worked as a climbing guide, rescued people from deadly circumstances and now operates on famous athletes.
Hackett started out working in archeology. He put together displays at museums and made tools. At the same time, he taught desert survival and led climbs in southern Utah and Wyoming.
The more he became involved in climbing around the world ” in Bolivia, Peru, Nepal, Europe and Saudi Arabia, to name a few ” the more interested in emergency medicine he became. So, Hackett became a wilderness emergency medical technician and did search and rescue in Wyoming and Utah.
“Doing more search and rescue, I got interested more in medicine,” said Hackett, who would get patients out, stabilized and to a helicopter or emergency room. “I felt like I was starting something and not finishing it.”
It was that feeling that led him back to college. And despite a pre-med advisor at the University of Wyoming telling him he would fail, he made it through, paying his way by working as a carpenter.
From there, he went on to Tufts University in Massachusetts, became involved in orthopaedics and worked with college hockey teams until moving to Los Angeles for additional training in sports surgery.
Once he received his medical degree, Hackett went to western Nepal to practice ” a truly rewarding experience, he says.
One woman in particular that he will never forget lived a day-and-a-half walk away from the clinic and came to him for a minor procedure. Afterward, she was so thankful she made the trip a second time to bring a present.
“She walked three full days just to give me a cucumber,” Hackett said, remembering the amazing moment.
In Hackett’s work with the American Mountain Guide Association involves giving medical advice, even walking injured adventurer through minor surgeries over satellite phones.
Some injured people can continue with their adventures though others need immediate medical attention, he said.
One man who was sailing around the world by himself called about an infected elbow. Hackett talked him through minor surgery on his own elbow to get the pus out.
Hackett also recalled a rescue mission he went on in Utah where a woman broke her leg just a couple of miles from a trailhead.
She was with 10 people so Hackett brought in ropes and equipment they could use to get her out. But the group was so weak from not eating that he had to call a helicopter.
And while he no longer works search and rescue, he is glad to help from his role as medical director. “I want to give back to the community I came from,” Hackett said. “I feel really lucky.”