Transplant heroics in ride to Vail
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” When Rick Adams woke up for his night shift at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center Friday, April 17, it was 4:30 p.m. and a blizzard blanketed the area. Adams ” a critical care respiratory therapist who commutes to the high country ” was expected at work in two hours. With Interstate 70 on lock down and St. Anthony’s day-shift workers immobile because of the storm, Adams momentarily thought he was stuck in Denver.
But, within five minutes, his plans changed considerably. He was asked to drive a surgeon from the University of Colorado Hospital to Vail Valley Medical Center and back on the closed interstate, a perilous trek to harvest organs that could save three lives in Denver ” two kidney-transplant patients and one liver-transplant patient.
It was the dying wish of Mylissa Burnett Eckdahl, who was deemed brain dead from a respiratory problem in Vail, to donate her organs to others.
Adams, who previously served as a special forces flight paramedic in the United States Air Force, immediately agreed to help. During nine years of military service, he learned to drive 40 different types of emergency- transport vehicles, often while under enemy fire. He served on two tours of combat, in the Middle East and Bosnia, and returned to civilian life in 1999.
“Everyone’s calling this a heroic event, but I had so much fun doing it,” Adams said. “I welcomed the opportunity. This was the first time I could do something like this outside of combat. The mission was essential, period.”
Adams recently received a Halos for Heroes medal of valor from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center/Centura Health for going above and beyond the call of duty.
“The gift that their daughter gave was more of a gift than I gave,” he said. “I transported the gift.”
Within a half-hour of the call, Adams picked up Dr. Jeff Campsen at the University of Colorado Hospital and then drove, snail-paced, toward Vail. Adams often drove on the interstate’s center divider to avoid dangerous areas on the road.
“Colorado State Patrol said ‘good luck, you’re on your own,'” Adams said. “We had no escorts. The snow was literally blinding, coming over the top of my hood, and the snow on I-70 was 30 inches deep at one point.”
After making it as far as
US 40, they crashed into a ditch ” his souped-up special services GMC Suburban submarined into the snow. Adams, at that point, thought they were stuck, but he managed to claw his way back onto the road.
After six-and-a-half hours, they arrived at Vail Valley Medical Center, where two kidneys and a liver were removed from 43-year-old Eckdahl.
According to Adams, Eckdahl was previously paralyzed in a 2001 car crash, and lived with her family until her death.
By the time the organs were extracted, it was 1:15 a.m., he said. And the clock was ticking. They had until 5 a.m. to get the organs back to Denver.
“I turned on a movie and told the physicians it would be a bad trip,” Adams said. “It was the worst by Idaho Springs. I’ve never seen it that deep.”
On the drive back to Denver, they encountered icy conditions and the remnants of avalanches while driving through white-out conditions.
The Suburban’s 1.5 million candle-power headlights were no help ” “When you turn my lights on at night, it’s daytime” ” but Adams couldn’t see anything but snow.
The team made it back to the hospital at 4:20 a.m. and Adams remained hyped about his mission for the rest of the morning, recounting his adventure to his fiancee, Meashell Roth, and others.
Roth said she was a little worried about the trek, but she had full confidence in his driving and he checked in with her periodically.
Adams and Roth recently welcomed the birth of their first son, 3-month-old Timothy Richard Adams Esquire. He now lives with Roth and his baby son in Idaho Springs.
Adams’ only regret is that he caused $5,000 worth of damage to his truck right after the birth of his son.
“He needs to get his ride pimped,” Roth said.
But, Adams is just glad he could help and use his specific skill set to help others.
“Life outside of combat doesn’t hold the same sense of adventure,” Adams said. “I save lives all the time. That’s what I do.
I love this.”
Though Adams helped save three people that night, thousands more are still waiting for new organs.
According to Jennifer Moe, director of communications at Donor Alliance, more than 1,800 people are waiting for an organ transplant in Colorado.
“It’s very important that you register your decision to be an organ and tissue donor,” Moe said.
To register, visit http://www.donatelifecolorado.org.
Caitlin Row can be reached at (970) 668-4633 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.