HILLSBORO, MO (KTVI)– There isn’t one hero, but a whole bunch of heroes who jumped in to save the life of a Hillsboro, Missouri teenager.
Fourteen-year-old Chris Heller hit a cable while on a 4-wheeler ride through the woods on a summer evening in 2012. His mother was riding with him. The wire struck Chris across the throat, temporarily knocking him unconscious and leaving a mark like a bad rope burn. But the injuries inside were much worse. The blow had split Chris’s trachea. That’s the tube that carries air from the voice box down into the lungs.
Chris regained consciousness and headed the 4-wheeler for home. With his trachea severed, he couldn’t breathe. He made it to his Dad’s driveway where he again passed out.
Chris Senior carried his son to the garage where the boy’s aunt, a nurse started cpr. Briget Bartlett kept it up until Ginny Whitler and Jimmy McDermott arrived from Big River Ambulance. They took over trying to get air into the dying boy.
Meanwhile, Survival Flight Service out of Mercy Jefferson in Festus headed to the scene. Paramedic Roland Therina and flight nurse, Kelly Hopkins arrived to join the fight. Therina recalls Chris’ vital signs were poorand he was on the brink of cardiac arrest. Therina says he had seen this type of injury a couple of times and the patients didn’t survive.
They decided their best chance to save the teen was to pass an endotracheal tube down Chris’ windpipe to seal off the injury and ventilate his lungs. It was a one shot deal. They managed to get the tube to pass through the severed trachea into the other end that was just hanging freely. The connection closed the gap and allowed them to get air into Chris.
He was flown to St. Louis Children’s Hospital where Dr. David Molter was able to sew the trachea back together. Dr. Molter called the action by the crew in the field, “remarkable.” and credited it with saving Chris’ life.
Chris is not out of the woods yet. Chris lost his voice when the nerves that feed the injured area, including his voice box, were also damaged. Dr. Molter is considering more surgeries over the next few years to try to get a new nerve supply into that area. He says many of the ATV accidents he sees involve head injuries from riders not wearing helmets. Helmets are a good idea, but Dr. Molter says a helmet wouldn’t have made a difference in this situation.
All the folks that helped Chris that night received the “Lifesaver Award” from the American Heart Association.
Chris called the first responders some of the best people he could ever know because they saved his life. His dad called them amazing people and thanked everyone for their prayers. Chris’ mom described those who worked to save her son, her son’s angels.